Scientists aim to unlock deep-sea 'secrets' of Earth's crust

May 14, 2008

Scientists from Durham University will use robots to explore the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to study the growth of underwater volcanoes that build the Earth's crust.

The Durham experts will lead an international team of 12 scientists aboard Britain's Royal Research Ship James Cook which will set sail from Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, in the Azores on Friday, May 23.

During the five-week expedition they will use explorer robots to map individual volcanoes on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plate boundary - which effectively runs down the centre of the Atlantic Ocean - almost two miles (3km) below the surface of the sea.

They will then use another robot, called ISIS, to collect rock samples from the volcanoes which will be dated using various techniques to shed more light on the timescales behind the growth of the Earth's crust and the related tectonic plates.

As tectonic plates - formations that make up the Earth's shell - are pulled apart by forces in the Earth, rocks deep down in the mantle are pulled up to fill the gap left behind. As the rocks rise they start to melt and form thousands of volcanoes on the sea floor which eventually cluster into giant ridges.

The ridges along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge plate boundary are each about the size of the Malvern Hills and contain hundreds of individual volcanoes.

Principal investigator Professor Roger Searle, in the Department of Earth Sciences, at Durham University, said: "The problem is that we don't know how fast these volcanoes form or if they all come from melting the same piece of mantle rock.

"The ridges may form quickly, perhaps in just 10,000 years (about the time since the end of the last Ice Age) with hundreds of thousands of years inactivity before the next one forms, or they may take half-a-million years to form, the most recent having begun before the rise of modern humans.

"Understanding the processes forming the crust is important, because the whole ocean floor, some 60 per cent of the Earth's surface, has been recycled and re-formed many times over the Earth's history."

Professor Searle's team will include scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Open University, the University of Paris and several institutions in the USA.

They will date the volcanoes using radiometric dating (which measures the radioactive decay of atoms) and by measuring the changing strength of the Earth's magnetic field through time as recorded by the natural magnetism of the rocks.
-end-
Co-investigators on this project are Professors Jon Davidson and Yaoling Niu of Durham University's Earth Sciences Department, and Dr Bramley Murton of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

The work is funded by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, which also owns and operates the RRS James Cook.

A cruise blog will be available at http://www.classroomatsea.net

Durham University

Related Robots Articles from Brightsurf:

On the way to lifelike robots
In order for robots to be able to achieve more than simple automated machines in the future, they must not only have their own ''brain''.

Children think robots can help the elderly -- but not their own grandparents
A study that asked children to assess three different robots showed that they responded most positively to simple robots shaped like flower pots, and were most sceptical of Pepper the robot, which looks more human.

Nanomaterial gives robots chameleon skin
A new film made of gold nanoparticles changes color in response to any type of movement.

How many jobs do robots really replace?
MIT economist Daron Acemoglu's new research puts a number on the job costs of automation.

Robots popular with older adults
A new study by psychologists from the University of Jena (Germany) does not confirm that robot skepticism among elder people is often suspected in science.

Showing robots how to do your chores
By observing humans, robots learn to perform complex tasks, such as setting a table.

Designing better nursing care with robots
Robots are becoming an increasingly important part of human care, according to researchers based in Japan.

Darn you, R2! When can we blame robots?
A recent study finds that people are likely to blame robots for workplace accidents, but only if they believe the robots are autonomous.

Robots need a new philosophy to get a grip
Robots need to know the reason why they are doing a job if they are to effectively and safely work alongside people in the near future.

How can robots land like birds?
Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick.

Read More: Robots News and Robots Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.