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World first: NZ scientists to drill undersea volcano

Newshub logoNewshub 6/05/2018

They will drill three boreholes into the hydrothermally active submarine volcano in the Kermadec arc. © GNS Science Several New Zealand scientists are part of the team that will drill into an undersea volcano northeast of White Island this month.

On Wednesday they will head out on a two-month-long expedition in the hopes of learning about how metals and life forms move through the Earth's crust in Brothers volcano, 400km northeast of White Island.

They will drill three boreholes into the hydrothermally active submarine volcano in the Kermadec arc.

This will be the first project of its kind anywhere in the world.

The Brothers volcano is three times the size of White Island with a summit 1200m below sea level.

The most ambitious borehole will attempt to drill 800m deep into rock, which can get as hot as 400 degrees Celsius.

a close up of text on a white background © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited The project will cost USD$15 million (NZD$21.4 million) and is funded by the 23 countries that make up the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

"In the year that marks the fiftieth anniversary of IODP and its predecessor organisations, we are particularly delighted to set out on this unprecedented fascinating endeavour of drilling an active submarine volcano in New Zealand waters," said IODP Expedition 376 Project Manager Dr Tobias Höfig.

New Zealand's participation in the project is coordinated by GNS Science in partnership with other Australian and New Zealand research organisations.

GNS Science expedition co-chief Cornel de Ronde says he suspects to find "significant copper, zinc, and gold mineralisation" in the volcano.

"This voyage will increase our understanding of where these metals come from and how they accumulate in submarine volcanoes, which may help in the extraction of these economically important and critical metals in similar settings worldwide."

As well as learning about the metals in the volcanic crust, scientists will also study the volcano's biological life.

Dr de Ronde said it is expected that they will discover microbes that are completely new to science. This knowledge will contribute to evolutionary biologists' understanding of early life on Earth.

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