Lost city in the ocean – mining activities threaten a natural wonder

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Discovered at the beginning of the new millennium, in 2000, the Lost Hydrothermal City is a jewel of the deep ocean. It lies 750-850 meters below its surface. For 120,000 years there has been a remarkable interaction between sea creatures and the surrounding water. This interaction has led to the formation of impressive limestone towers that are home to unique life forms. However, this underwater kingdom is now facing a serious threat. Increased interest in extracting minerals from the deep sea is calling into question the future of this fragile ecosystem. Scientists and environmentalists are sounding the alarm about the need to protect the Lost City from mining activities that could destroy the formation, and thus its unique scientific values.

Lost Hydrothermal City

The Lost City hydrothermal field, often referred to simply as the Lost City, is located in the Atlantis Massif, at the junction of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Atlantis Transform Fault, in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean. It was discovered in 2000. by a team of scientists from the University of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This represented a breakthrough in our understanding of hydrothermal processes in the ocean depths.

The Lost City is home to alkaline hydrothermal vents. It’s a place where hot seawater reacts with deep-seated rocks to create unusual geological phenomena. The process of serpentinization occurs here, which means that ultramafic minerals react with water, giving off hydrogen, methane and other gases that make life possible in an oxygen-deprived environment. These abiotically produced substances are an important part of the ecosystem and can serve as basic organic material for microorganisms. The chimneys are home to a wide range of creatures, from snails to crustaceans, demonstrating their adaptability to living in unconventional ecosystems.

The site is of great interest to scientists in various fields, including geology, biology, chemistry and astrobiology. The Lost City is a natural laboratory, perfect for studying the processes involved in the origin and evolution of life on Earth. In addition, it is an important source of knowledge about the possibility of its existence on other planets. It is speculated that similar hydrothermal junctions may have been the birthplace of life, which is consistent with the theory regarding the role of the deep oceans in these processes. Conditions in the Lost City, including the production of free hydrogen and the presence of metallic catalysts consistent with the iron-sulfur world theory, may have created an environment conducive to the emergence of the first microorganisms and the formation of organic molecules.

Lost City threatened by mining activities

The area of the Lost City is outside national jurisdiction and is regulated by the International Authority for the Promotion of the Development of the Lost City. The International Seabed Authority(ISA), which was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS). The ISA’s task is to manage mineral extraction in such a way as to effectively protect the marine environment from the harmful effects of mineral exploration and exploitation. The Lost City Hydrothermal Field was incorporated in 2014. to the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD) as an important marine area. This event had a significant impact on the recognition of the formation as an area of key ecological and biological importance.

In 2017, our country secured a 15-year exploration contract from the ISA, which comes with a commitment to conduct regular environmental studies and report on progress. Then, in 2018, Poland secured the rights to mine resources in the Lost City area. This decision, while strategic from a resource perspective, poses a serious threat to this fragile ecosystem.

One of the main threats to the Lost City is damage to its ecosystem caused by mining activities. Scientists are expressing serious concerns about possible emissions that are likely to result from mining operations. Deep-sea mining can lead to the release of various pollutants, including heavy metals and other toxic substances, and these, spreading beyond the work area, will affect the marine ecosystem widely.

Deep-sea mining near the Lost City may carry many more potential risks:

  • Changing physical conditions: mining operations can disrupt physical conditions on the seafloor, such as temperature, pressure and currents. This in turn will affect species and their habitat;
  • destruction: deep-sea mines can lead to direct damage or destruction of hydrothermal vents and other unique geological structures that are key habitats for many marine species;
  • Impact on biodiversity: deep-sea mining can disrupt the biodiversity of deep-sea ecosystems;
  • Changes in food chains: disruption of local ecosystems can lead to changes in food chains, which in turn affect the ecological balance of the entire region;
  • Threat to undiscovered species: since many species living in the ocean depths are still undiscovered, mining activities may destroy these unique life forms before they can be identified and studied.

An appeal for protection

Scientists are expressing serious concerns about pollution and emissions that may result from mining operations. They are therefore calling for action to protect this unique site and for it to be officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lost Hydrothermal City is not only a natural wonder, but also a key to understanding life in extreme conditions and a potential source of knowledge about extraterrestrial life. Its uniqueness and scientific significance make it a treasure to be protected for future generations.

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