Exploration of Polymetallic Nodules

Cabinet approves extension of contract between India and The International Seabed Authority for the exploration of Polymetallic Nodules



  • The first deep-sea venture of the National Institute of Oceanography was started in 1982, for the exploration for nodules and India recognized as a “Pioneer Investor”.
  • In 1995, India ratifies the UNCLOS III convention and India elected as the council member of the International Seabed Authority
  • India signed a 15-year contract for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules (PMN) in the Central Indian Ocean Basin with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) on 25th March, 2002
  • In 2011, when the International Sea Bed Authority’s (ISBA’s) permitted to allow the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association to undertake exploration for poly-metallic sulphides in the south-west Indian Ocean. It has caused ripples in the Indian strategic community. This move can be considered as a geostrategic move to nullify the increasing influence of China.
  • Presently, India is having an area of 75,000 sq.km, located about 2000 km away from the southern tip for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules.
  • The recent acquisition of India’s deep-sea exploration ship ‘Samudra Ratnakar’ by the Geological Survey of India is a significant development.

Why in the news?



  • The continental shelf is a valuable asset. The continental shelf is the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas extending out to the continental margin. It holds many resources and vital habitats for marine life.
  • The extended continental shelf has also emerged as a bone of contention among countries.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the extension of the contract between the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules for 5 years (2017-2022).
  • The Ministry of Earth Sciences is carrying out a survey and exploration, Environmental Impact Assessment, Technology Development (Mining and Extractive Metallurgy) under poly-metallic nodules program through various national institutes.
  • The International Seabed Authority designates one of the two areas as a reserved area for exploration either by its operating arm, the Enterprise, or by the Authority in association with developing States. The other area is allocated to the applicant as a contract area.

What is International Seabed Authority?


  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is an autonomous international organization established in 1994, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The Authority has its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica.
  • It was established to regulate, organize and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of a country’s national jurisdiction, an area underlying most of the world’s oceans.
  • It governs non-living resources of seabed lying in international waters.
  • There are 168 members of the International Seabed Authority. The United States has not yet ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and is not a member of the International Seabed Authority.

What is United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?

  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea treaty or the Law of the Sea Convention.
  • The Law of the Sea Convention is laws concerned with public order at sea and adopt regulations and laws to control pollution of the marine environment.
  • It characterizes the rights and obligations of countries regarding their utilization of the world’s seas, setting up rules for organizations, the earth, and the administration of marine natural resources.
  • It also calls for innovation exchanges in the technological field from developed to undeveloped countries.


What is a PolyMetallic Nodule/PolyMetallic Sulphide (PMS)?


  • Polymetallic nodules are Fe-Mn oxide deposits, potato shape, porous, black earthy colour with size ranging from 2 to 10 cm in diameter
  • These are considered as the precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from deep interior of the oceanic crust, discharged through mineralized paths.
  • Copper and zinc are the most likely metals to be recovered, but some deposits exhibit significant gold (0–20 ppm) and silver (0–1200 ppm) grades as well.
  • Submarine massive polymetallic sulphide bodies are found along the earth’s major tectonic belts.
  • These Rare earth minerals are considered as the great source of valuable minerals such as gold, silver and zinc. It also contains valuable rare-earth metals which used as an essential ingredient in electronic devices and gadgets.

What is South – West Indian Ridges (SWIR)


  • The Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) is a mid-ocean ridge located along the floors of the south-west Indian Ocean and south-east Atlantic Ocean.
  • The SWIR is also a divergent tectonic plate boundary which separates the African Plate to the north from the Antarctic Plate to the south.
  • It is distinguished by ultra-slow spreading rates (only exceeding those of the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic) combined with a fast lengthening of its axis between the two flanking triple junctions namely Rodrigues (20°30′S 70°00′E) in the Indian Ocean and Bouvet (54°17′S 1°5′W) in the Atlantic Ocean.

Why this is important?

  • By extending the contract, India’s exclusive rights for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules in the allotted Area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin will continue.
  • It would open up new horizons for resources of commercial and strategic value in the area beyond national jurisdiction.
  • It would also provide vital significance to India in terms of enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean water where other major international players are also active.
  • Due to its geographical location, India is the only country having exclusive rights over one site out of three sites for polymetallic nodules in the central Indian Ocean.
  • Therefore, adopting blue economy strategies on par with international standards is a step in the right direction to balance economic development with environmental sustainability.

Economic significance

  • Employment opportunities skill-sets and capacities
  • Empowerment of coastal communities and attaining greater social and economic inclusion.
  • New development in electronics industry.
  • Providing a boost to coastal and national economies
  • Promoting entrepreneurship in new areas of economic activity
  • Development of blue economy and diplomacy.
  • Sagarmala project will enhance the exploration.
  • It will also open new doors for mining of oil and gas reservoirs which are potent for India’s energy security.

Strategic advantages

  • Presently, China is controlling more than 95% of rare earth metals. This move will nullify the increasing influence of China.
  • It will strengthen the bilateral relationship of India with Japan, Germany and South Korea

Challenges: Technological and Environmental issues

  • The specialized drills and extraction-technology that would be required pulling out the metals from the deep sea would develop a major technical challenge.
  • The deep sea mining without holistic approach may cause a drastic disturbance and imbalance in the aquatic ecosystem because deep in the ocean, which is the largest habitat on earth is also the world as vibrant and rich as the one outside. It is considered as the last resources to depend on. There are mountain ranges, ridges, forests, seamounts, volcanoes and a unique ecology that challenges the common knowledge.
  • The deep sea mining may distract the keystone and the foundation species.

Other major current news can be related to

  • New Moore island in the Sunder bans- India and Bangladesh
  • USA does not ratify the Law of sea- UNCLOS
  • Extended Continental Shelf
  • South China Sea

How to approach for the Civil Services Examination

  • General Studies 1: Geographical aspects, minerals
  • General Studies 2: Diplomacy and international relations.
  • General Studies 3: Indian Economy, Bio-diversity, Environment

Practice Questions

  • How the blue economy is transforming to blue diplomacy? Discuss with respect to the exploration of polymetallic sulphides.
  • What is the impact of deep sea mining?
  • Write a note on changing trends of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean?

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