SCIENTISTS UNCOVERING MORE SECRETS OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN

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By Cherelle Jackson

APIA, Samoa (March 22, 2002 – Samoa Observer)---Four scientists from the University of Rhode Island, one from Tokyo University in Japan and a political observer from Kiribati are in Samoa to await the arrival of the Research Vessel Melville.

The vessel was due to arrive yesterday from New Zealand where it was used by another group of scientists who are now turning it over to this group, who will be conducting part of Expedition Cook, which started in the year 2000 and now is in its fourth leg.

Samoa Observer caught up with Professor Roger Larson, the head of the scientific expedition, who answered a few questions for us.

Prof Larson is a professor of oceanography and marine geo physics. He first arrived in Samoa in the late 1960s as a graduate student.

He was asked to talk about the expedition and how it came to take place in the Pacific.

"We are going to transit from here to Manihiki Plateau (near Tahiti), picking up on the last expedition, which was in the year 2000."

He said the "expedition finished early due to problems with the ship, which was going too slow."

The last expedition began on November 1st and continued until early December 2000. It started at the south of the Manihiki Plateau and moved towards the north, covering most of the eastern part of the plateau.

Expedition Cook 4 will be leaving Samoa on Sunday, heading towards the Manhiki Plateau. From there they will go north towards the "Nova-Canton Trough Deep," which is 500-1,000 kilometers (300-600 miles) northeast of Samoa.

"We are trying to understand the geological structure and also tectonic history of the earth," Prof. Larson said, "to find out the structure and geological history of the Pacific basin, and deep sea floor."

Prof. Larson was asked to tell what he hopes to achieve from the expedition and he said: "I have been spending a lot of time in my professional life trying to understand the geologic history of the Pacific.

"We want to learn more about the geologic, structural, tectonic history -- how the Pacific basin in this area was born," he said.

"Since its two-thirds of the planet, we can get a much better view of the overall tectonic history of earth."

Prof. Larson was motivated to find more about the geology of the ocean when he was a student back in 1960s, when there was "almost nothing known about the geology of the ocean; nobody knew anything."

"Back then we had no idea about age or tectonic history at all," he said. "Since then, with mapping technology, we are able to understand with ever increasing detail the age and structural detail of the ocean basin.

"We also know how the planet evolved in a geological sense."

The expedition, if it is successful, will discover and uncover a lot of information about the geology of the ocean, which will contribute to answering many questions about the future of the earth.

"This is not just a small piece of information about a remote part of the basin. It's a part of puzzle that allows us to interpret the entire structure of earth. Now we can put ages and tectonic history on much of this part of the world but there are still things that we don't quite understand.

"One interesting thing is this big environmental concern -- global warming with cars, fossil fuels -- temperatures going up and glaciers melting. They're obviously something humans are doing.

"If we go back to the Cretaceaus period (dinosaur era) there was a natural green house effect."

He said that when the Pacific basin was forming the temperatures then were much warmer.

"But then volcanic activity was spewing out carbon dioxide and driving global temperatures, creating an overheated planet."

He concluded saying: "By understanding geologic history of an era that was associated with the natural green house, we hope to understand a little bit more about how the present day global warming might affect the planet in the future."

The scientists will board the Research Vessel Melville on Sunday to begin the fourth leg of Expedition Cook.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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