Oceans, a new space for technological colonization?

Oceans, a new space for technological colonization?

It is now known that the seabed contains resources that can support “green growth” strategies led by various countries. How are manufacturers and companies showing their interest in this new space? What seabed exploration missions have been particularly announced in recent years? What are the most advanced tools for conducting explorations today?

Questions that our three guests will try to answer:

  • Olivier LaskarEditor-in-Chief of the Digital Department at Science and the future And the author of the book The abyss, the final frontier (Ed Alessio, 2023)
  • Camille MorelResearcher in international relations associated with the Lyon Center for International Security and Defense Studies and author of the book Submarine cables (CNRS Editions, March 2023)
  • Jean-François Poiriergeological engineer at Ifremer

Offered in partnership with Numerama. Look for columns by Marie Turkan and Marcus Dupont Besnard each week.

Humans invade unknown space

Exploration and exploitation of the seabed is a fundamental issue for all countries, as journalist Olivier Laskar explains: “At the ocean floor level and below the ocean floor there are mineral and mining resources, which are extremely important at a time when we are moving to transitional energies, as we are moving to fully electronic technology. In these cellars we will find what we need to make batteries, smartphone screens and various devices needed for wind turbines. These mineral resources are distributed differently across the ocean floor. The abyss is about three-quarters of the planet. There is a very large playground. However, every country with coastlines has what is called an exclusive economic zone. Within these exclusive economic zones, each country can do whatever it wants. But it is clear, by definition, that the ocean is a liquid medium. What happens within the exclusive economic zone will inevitably be repeated elsewhere“.

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Countries are not the only ones interested in these resources, as technology giants are investing heavily in this exploitation: “During the period 2017-2022, the investment of Internet giants, and therefore content providers, represents more than 53% of the total investment in submarine cables. So it's huge and obviously it's an investment that's growing and their interest and needs are showing as well, because they have big data transfer and bandwidth needs, and they're going to make those investments. It thus frees itself from the traditional traffic of telecom operators, who are obviously heavily taxed initially to transmit their data.“, points out Camille Morel, a researcher in international relations.

However, marine space is still little known to scientists: “We don't really know what tools will be used to exploit it, and we don't really know what ecosystems are at the bottom. This means that we perceive pressure to be very strong, and have difficulty measuring the effects. Opening the process is a blank check for pollution or changes in the marine environment that we cannot currently measure. So it is clearly very important to wait until we have the necessary knowledge to judge. No exploit will be performed without impact. The question is where to put the cursor?“, recalls Jean-François Poirier, geological engineer at Everemer.

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A new technological battleground?

This ecosystem belongs to everyone, and countries compete to explore it: “There is a race towards the abyss and major international depths. According to the rules of the AIFM (International Seabed Authority), what is very important is that the ocean floor and the riches hidden beneath it have been designated as World Heritage of Humanity. This means that the exploits that will be made will be transmitted to all countries participating in the AIFM. This is why even countries that do not have the technical skills to carry out this type of exploitation can be very excited and interested in the fact of its arrival, because it will be a source of income for them.“, confirms Olivier Laskar.

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France was not excluded with its multiple maritime fronts, most notably those provided by DrumCom: “Evremer is the armed wing of the French state. One of our main instruments is the French scientific submarine Nautile. Whether it is the Nautilus or the other instruments we send, we must use tricks so that we can position ourselves well, because sending the Nautilus, it will take a stone, if we cannot re-position ourselves for the mission “next in the world.” In the same setting, we are unable to extend our study“, says Jean-François Poirier.

Submarine cables have also become essential for the seabed. Deployed to respond to military, technological and industrial challenges, they are proliferating at high speed in the abyss: “ There are about 500 submarine cables in the worldTo give a comprehensive idea, it transmits more than 98% of international communications, i.e. phone calls and Internet data that would be circulated around the world. This is a disputed number, but it is quite symbolic and represents the importance of these infrastructures for our digital society, because in reality we need to transfer data almost daily, whether it is “the point of view of Internet users”, from the point of view of companies, financial players and administrations, who, through their digital uses, demand -Transfer data around the world“, adds Camille Morel.

Moving forward, explore News from a better world By Juliette Defoe All the news of the week highlighting the world of technology.

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