A mission off New Zealand's North Island coast has broken new-ground with an international team of scientists going where none have gone before.
Geoscientists on a trip to the Kermadec Arc and Kermadec Trench – 400 kilometres north-east of White Island - have managed to drill into the heart of an underwater volcano, more than 1,600 metres below the surface, and extract samples.
Radio New Zealand said at the weekend that the science vessel Joides Resolution returned to Auckland and chief scientist Cornel de Ronde from GNS Science has been welcoming people aboard to share the expedition's success.
He said it was rare to be able to drill through any volcano, let alone one so deep in the ocean. The drilling target, Brothers in the Kermadec Trench is reportedly as large if not larger than any land volcanoes in New Zealand.
“We were very lucky that this international consortium thought that this was a pretty good idea, all based on science,” Dr de Ronde said.
The quest, he said was five years in the making and $20 million in the costs.
Radio NZ reported that scientists spent two months drilling into Brothers, a massive underwater volcano three times the size of White island. The oval shaped volcano is 13 km-long and 8 km-wide.
Cornel de Ronde said scientists knew more about the dark side of the moon than they did about the ocean floor, but information from the Brothers would help answer some key questions.
“How are metals transported through volcanoes - what metals are there, how did they get there and where are they going?
Scientist Tobias Hofig said that at one point they struck rock so hard and hot fluids so acidic that some of their drilling equipment was destroyed. However, they still managed to recover more than 200m of volcanic core.
The trip was funded by a consortium of 23 countries that make up the International Ocean Discovery Programme, with the United States being the main funder.
Radio NZ said scientists will now spend the next year poring over the samples to help unearth more secrets around how and why submarine volcanoes work.
*Sources: radionz.co.nz; nzresources.com