Manganese nodules of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) in the NE Pacific Ocean are highly enriched in Ni, Cu, Co, Mo and rare-earth elements, and thus may be the subject of future mining operations. Elucidating the depositional and biogeochemical processes that contribute to nodule formation, as well as the respective redox environment in both, water column and sediment, supports our ability to locate future nodule deposits and evaluates the potential ecological and environmental effects of future deep-sea mining. For these purposes we evaluated the local hydrodynamics and pore-water geochemistry with respect to the nodule coverage at four sites in the eastern CCFZ. Furthermore, we carried out selective leaching experiments at these sites in order to assess the potential mobility of Mn in the solid phase, and compared them with the spatial variations in sedimentation rates. We found that the oxygen penetration depth is 180 - 300 cm at all four sites, while reduction of Mn and NO3- is only significant below the oxygen penetration depth at sites with small or no nodules on the sediment surface. At the site without nodules, potential microbial respiration rates, determined by incubation experiments using 14C-labelled acetate, are slightly higher than at sites with nodules. Leaching experiments showed that surface sediments covered with big or medium-sized nodules are enriched in mobilizable Mn. Our deep oxygen measurements and pore-water data suggest that hydrogenetic and oxic-diagenetic processes control the present-day nodule growth at these sites, since free manganese from deeper sediments is unable to reach the sediment surface. We propose that the observed strong lateral contrasts in nodule size and abundance are sensitive to sedimentation rates, which in turn, are controlled by small-scale variations in seafloor topography and bottom-water current intensity.
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