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Scientists To Explore Seafloor In Deep-Diving Sub

21 October 2004

Scientists To Explore Seafloor In Deep-Diving Sub

Japanese and New Zealand scientists plan to spend the next two weeks exploring the seafloor northeast of Bay of Plenty in the world’s deepest-diving submersible.

In what will be a first for New Zealand, the scientists will make six dives on two submarine volcanoes about 300km northeast of White Island. They will collect geological samples, hot fluids and gases, and organisms from around the vents associated with the active volcanoes.

They also plan to capture video footage of spectacular seafloor geological formations. The 17-day project is a collaboration between government-owned research company Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS) and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

The volcanoes they are targeting are named Brothers and Healy. Brothers is about three times the size of White Island and sits in 1800m of water.

Scientists describe Brothers as the “jewel in the crown” of New Zealand’s offshore volcanoes because of its size and high level of hydrothermal activity. Thick mineral-rich plumes rise from several vents at its summit. The nearby Healy volcano is slightly smaller and also hydrothermally active.

Scientists estimate there could be up to 90 volcanoes in the 2500km stretch of volcanic seafloor between Bay of Plenty and Tonga, many of them producing hot mineral-laden plumes.

JAMSTEC is bringing the pride of its fleet to New Zealand for the project. The submersible Shinkai 6500 is capable of taking a crew of three to the bottom of the world’s deepest oceans for eight hours at a time.

In New Zealand waters it will operate at depths of up to 1800m. Shinkai 6500 was launched in 1991 and has made 850 dives. About the size of two SUVs, it has played a prominent role in worldwide deepsea research during the past 13 years. It has been brought to New Zealand on its mother ship – the 105m-long Yokosuka.

The project starts with Yokosuka leaving Auckland on 25 October and ends in Fiji on 10 November. JAMSTEC is meeting most of the cost of the project as part of an ongoing relationship between New Zealand and Japanese science organisations.

ENDS

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