Proposed harvesting of polymetallic nodules in the Central Tropical Pacific will generate plumes of suspended sediment which are anticipated to be ecologically harmful. While the deep sea is low in energy, it also can be highly turbulent, since the vertical density gradient which suppresses turbulence is weak. The ability to predict the impact of deep plumes is limited by scarcity of in-situ observations.
Our observations show that the low-energy environment more than four kilometres below the surface ultimately becomes an order of magnitude more energetic for periods of weeks in response to the passage of mesoscale eddies. The source of these eddies is remote in time and space, here identified as the Central American Gap Winds. Abyssal current variability is controlled by comparable contributions from tides, surface winds and passing eddies. During eddy-induced elevated flow periods mining-related plumes, potentially supplemented by natural sediment resuspension, are expected to spread and disperse more widely and rapidly. Predictions are given of the timing, location and scales of impact.