[ANALYSIS] Benham Rise and the value of scientific research

All up for Benham Rise! This phrase alludes to an order given to citizens about to undertake a patriotic activity such as singing the national anthem. Unbeknownst to most Filipinos at that time, on April 12, 2012, the nation rose to honor a new piece of sovereign territory, when the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in New York, adopted in full the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Benham Rise region, as recommended by the Philippine Extended Continental Shelf (PECS) Technical Working Group (TWG).

Making a submission to the UN for an extended continental shelf (ECS) right requires establishing the link between the main landmass of a coastal state and the offshore area it wishes to annex. This exercise can be accomplished by satisfying all applicable provisions of the rigorous scientific and technical guidelines of more than 300 pages and 10 chapters of the CLCS.

Handicapped by the lack of its own suitable offshore geophysical survey vessel, the PECS team, to supplement its own bathymetric data collected by the TWG’s lead agency, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), traveled very far to discuss with the scientists. and continental shelf experts from around the world looking for models and submission examples to guide the formulation of a connection between Luzon and Benham Rise. The team had to comply with the provisions of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In the end, it all came down to two tricks: looking for bathymetric links and establishing natural extension.

The first test areas required if qualified as underwater “bridges” to establish geomorphological continuity using maps showing the geometry of the seabed (bathymetry). The second required presenting arguments to prove that North Luzon and the Benham Rise region belonged to the same geological entity.

Both tricks, however, required long hours of crunching numbers and analyzing data, culminating in heated debates in countless meetings that at times made TWG members sweat and cry. The PECS team identified two bathymetric links: one about 50 nautical miles east of Palanan Isabela, the other about 80 nautical miles east of Polilio Island – aptly calling them Palanan Saddle and Bicol Saddle respectively.

Establishing the natural extension proved to be more difficult. It took extensive analysis of the geophysical datasets that describe the character of the lithosphere beneath Benham Rise in terms of rock type, how it is pulled towards the center of the earth (gravity) and, where in the geology it was. . past and how it traveled through time (paleomagnetism). (Editor’s note: one nautical mile = 1.852 kilometers.)

Potential resource wealth of a seamount

The right Benham Rise ECS has added about 13 million hectares of seabed (for context, that’s about 45% – or nearly half – of the total land area of ​​the Philippines) and its subsoil to the already 11 million hectares in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Benham Rise region. (Benham Rise was renamed Philippine Rise via Executive Order No. 25 in 2017.)

Consequently, the Philippines now possesses sovereign rights which include the exploration and exploitation of seabed and subsoil resources over the 24 million hectare region. However, this should not be confused with the sovereign rights of the Philippines over the water column above the seabed which remain limited to the 11 million hectares within the Philippine EEZ.

As far as non-living natural resources are concerned, Benham Rise’s potential lies in its nature as a large igneous province (LIP) – an ancient volcanic edifice that manifests as a seamount, not a plateau. .

Geologists believe it to be around 42 million years old, based on the age determined from a single piece of rock drilled on the western half of the seamount in the 1970s. probable that it could host a geothermal resource, contrary to earlier reports which were probably influenced by the fact that it is presented as the largest caldera in the world discovered so far. Geothermal energy is harnessed from an active or recent volcano where groundwater flowing through permeable rocks below is further heated by nearby magma or hot intrusive rocks.

The seamount is also not likely to contain natural gas, as it does not host a mature sedimentary basin that would ideally provide the necessary elements for the accumulation of hydrocarbons. Instead, the western flanks of the seamount may contain gas hydrates – methane trapped in ice molecules nestled in sediments deep below the seabed. While neighbors Taiwan and Japan report discoveries of methane gas hydrates in nearby offshore areas, the Philippines has yet to make efforts to explore such an energy resource in the Benham Rise region.

And after

What Benham Rise could likely harbor are precious metals on its seabed.

One such resource is what the International Seabed Authority, an autonomous United Nations organization responsible for regulating the exploration and exploitation of seabed mineral resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction for the benefit of mankind as a whole, classifies as a cobalt-rich ferro-manganese crust – containing strategic resources. crucial elements in the medical and aeronautical industries, and in the manufacture of batteries and the needs of most green industries. These deposits develop as chemical encrustations on ancient volcanic seamounts when seawater interacts with the surface of the volcanic edifices. Hundreds of these seamounts exist in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, where several ISA States Parties are currently exploring for this type of valuable resource.

Prior to April 2012, no one seemed to know about Benham Rise, let alone care. But after the UN’s adoption of its extended continental shelf, Benham Rise became a household word that quickly gained popularity among ordinary people. pinoysand more particularly among civil society, environmental activists, media and politicians.

Today, efforts are being made to develop laws to declare the region and parts of it as ecosystem reserves and/or development zones. If they are to be meaningful and beneficial to Filipinos, these efforts must be articulated around the nature of the seamount which can best be established through scientific research. – Rappler.com

(The author Mario Aurelio, Ph.D., is a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines-Diliman. He is a member of the TWG-PECS which prepared, submitted and successfully defended the submission of the Philippines for an Extended Continental Shelf in the Benham Rise Region before the UN-CLCS He serves as a Commissioner on the Legal and Technical Commission of the ISA headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica]

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