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Posted 08.30.06

 
 
   

Research Team to Monitor Undersea Earthquake Zone

MU scientist is one of a handful of Americans participating in drilling ship's shakedown cruise

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A multi-year joint project among American, Japanese and other international scientists has the goal of putting instruments at depths below the ocean's floor where earthquakes happen, leading to a better understanding of the deadly quakes. The project's first step began earlier this month with a shakedown cruise of Japan's state-of-the-art deep sea drilling ship named Chikyu. University of Missouri-Columbia geologist Michael Underwood is one of a handful of American scientists who will participate in the shakedown cruise.

The project, Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment (NanTroSEIZE), is a multidisciplinary study of tectonic plates - the large plates that make up Earth's rigid outer shell - in southwest Japan, a region that experiences severe earthquakes and earthquake-generated tsunamis. According to the project's proponents, Chikyu is the first scientific ocean drilling ship equipped with a riser system that makes it possible to drill up to 7,000 meters below the ocean floor. Scientists plan to use the ship to drill directly into the plate boundary zone where earthquakes are generated and install instrumentation to measure activity over time. Previously, this was not possible because the seismogenic zone was too deep for other drilling ships to reach.

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"Chikyu is one of the modern technological marvels. Based on the expenditures and goals of this project, it's comparable to sending a spaceship to the moon. The project's ultimate goal of putting instruments at the depths where earthquakes are actually occurring will allow us to gather new types of data and information, which will help us understand the earthquakes happening there and in other places around the world," said Underwood, who is specialty coordinator, a member of the project management team and one of 10 co-chief scientists for NanTroSEIZE's initial stage of five expeditions.

The shakedown cruise, which began Aug. 6 and is expected to conclude in mid-October, marks the first step toward NanTroSEIZE's goals. During the cruise, the crew will conduct a test drilling to a depth of 2,200 meters at a site east of Japan's Shimokita Peninsula. Underwood will participate in the shakedown cruise Sept. 9-15.

NanTroSEIZE is expected to begin its first research stage in fall 2007. Multiple expeditions and stages are scheduled and will involve hundreds of scientists, engineers and assistants. NanTroSEIZE is an Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) project. U.S. participants during the shakedown are supported by Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI) and will operate in cooperation with the Center for Deep Earth Exploration (CDEX), a part of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

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