Scattered three miles deep along the floor of the central Pacific are trillions of black, misshapen nuggets that may just be the solution to an impending energy crisis. Similar in size and appearance to partially burned charcoal briquettes, the nuggets are called polymetallic nodules, and are an amalgamation of nickel, cobalt, manganese and other rare earth metals, formed through a complex biochemical process in which shark teeth and fish bones are encased by minerals accreted out of ocean waters over millions of years. Marine biologists say they are part of one of the least-understood environments on earth, holding, if not the secret to life on this planet, at least something equally fundamental to the health of its oceans. Gerard Barron, the Australian CEO of seabed-mining company the Metals Company, calls them something else: “a battery in a rock,” and “the easiest way to solve climate change.” The nodules, which are strewn across the 4.5 million-sq-km (1.7 million-sq-mi.) swath of international ocean between Hawaii and Mexico known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), contain significant amounts of the metals needed to make the batteries that power our laptops, phones and electric cars. Barron estimates that there is enough cobalt and nickel in those nuggets to power 4.8 billion electric vehicles—more than twice the number of vehicles on the road today, worldwide. Mining them, he says, would be as simple as vacuuming golf balls off a putting green.
At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean lies a solution to the imminent battery shortage…at a great potential cost to biodiversity and life on earth. Spencer Lowell for TIME But conservationists say doing so could unleash a cascade effect worse than the current trajectory of climate change. Oceans are a vital carbon sink, absorbing up