Sub to explore New Zealand undersea volcanoes
New Zealand and American scientists have joined forces to explore some of the world's most active undersea volcanoes along the Kermadec Arc, northeast of the Bay of Plenty.
Using a submersible from the University of Hawaii, they plan to find out more about the nature and diversity of marine life that populates submarine volcanoes.
They are also aiming to gain new knowledge about the geology and chemistry of the seafloor and its ecosystems within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.
The scientists will dive on eight volcanoes, at least two of which are bigger than Mt Ruapehu and intensely active. They range in depth from 300m to 1800m.
The first leg of the 'New Zealand-American Submarine Ring of Fire 2005 Expedition' leaves Pago Pago, American Samoa, on 3 April and is expected to arrive in Tauranga on 22 April. Depending on the weather, the scientists hope to make 30 dives during the 70-day expedition.
" This will be the first intensive exploration of the chain of seafloor volcanoes in New Zealand's offshore territory. It will set the stage for future exploration of our Exclusive Economic Zone," said Dr Alexander Malahoff, chief executive of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd (GNS).
Dr Malahoff, and Gary Massoth of GNS, will lead parts of the voyage with Dr Robert Embley of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Most of the target volcanoes have not been explored by submersible before. They were identified during previous New Zealand-American voyages on the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) deepwater research vessel, Tangaroa.
Offshore New Zealand has some of the most active and unusual submarine hot vents in the world. Scientists have mapped 77 submarine volcanoes in the 2500km stretch of seafloor between the Bay of Plenty and Tonga. Many host seafloor vents that produce large volumes of hot mineral-rich water and greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. At some of these sites deposits of iron, manganese, copper, zinc, lead and even gold are forming continuously. Also at these sites are communities of unusual marine organisms thriving in hostile conditions. They are relatively new to science and knowledge of their biology and physiology may lead to significant advances in industries such as pharmaceuticals. The “black smoker” plumes produced by seafloor vents supply trace metals that are vital to the lifeblood of the oceans.