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By Tanya M.C. Mendiola

AGANA, Guam (March 8, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---Scientists will drill into the seabed near the Marianas Trench to try to better understand earthquakes and the earth's structure.

The Joidies Resolution left Hotel Wharf yesterday with a crew of 109 people, including 25 scientists and 20 technicians.

The crew is part of the Ocean Drilling Program, an internationally funded scientific expedition.

"This is the biggest earth science project in the world," said geologist Carl Richter, project manager and staff scientist. "It is an incredible operation.

Scientists will drill into the Marianas subduction zone, located about 90 nautical miles (103 miles) east of Guam, Richter said.

A subduction zone is a place where two tectonic plates converge, thus causing earthquakes.

"This is to better understand how earthquakes occur and better understand the entire structure of our planet better," Richter said.

The local drilling area was chosen because scientists want to study rare, slow-growing volcanic structures on the top plate, Richter said.

"You get a very special kind of mud volcanism," he said. "Mud that comes up, comes up a few centimeters a year, so they are not like volcanism that you would experience on land."

Scientists will drill into one of the volcanoes and install an observatory.

"We will put tools down there that will record the temperature and pressure. We will leave behind a water sampler ... so we can analyze exactly how this mud volcanism works," he said.

For the past 13 years, the ship has drilled into ocean floors around the world, collecting core material and data to help understand the earth and plate movements.

The $45 million program is funded by 20 different countries and organized by Texas A&M University.

Joidies Resolution looks like an oil drilling ship, but has specialized equipment to help scientists collect data.

Richter said there is no other ship in the world with the same ability to drill and collect geological samples.

Before coming to Guam a week ago to restock and prepare for another two-month expedition, the ship was in Australia, drilling off the northeast coast.

After the ship installs a seismometer in the Philippine plate, it will head to Taiwan to continue research, Richter said.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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