Professor Journeys Once More Into the Deep

Geosciences Professor Returns to Deepest Region on Earth
to Study Three Undersea Volcanoes – One for the First Fime Ever

Feb. 2, 2009

No strangers to the craggy landscape of undersea volcanoes, Geosciences Professor Dr. Robert J. Stern and graduate student Julia Ribeiro are once again on their way to the Western Pacific Ocean near Guam.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Stern and Ribeiro will study submarine volcanoes in the Mariana Islands in early February. The region includes the U.S. territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Mariana Islands
The UT Dallas researchers will study underwater volcanoes near the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific.
The team sets sail from Guam aboard the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Research Vessel Natsushima and will take along an unmanned, tethered submarine robot called a HYPER-DOLPHIN. Such sophisticated “remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)” allow researchers to study the sea floor and collect rock samples. ROVs allow a team of scientists to observe the sea floor, a distinct advantage over more limited manned submersibles.

Building on their previous work in the area, the researchers will target three volcanoes: Tracey, NW Rota-1 and West Rota. Tracey, an extinct volcano west of Guam, has never been studied before. The volcano will net 1.5 days of diving before the team sails to NW Rota-1, a submarine volcano that has been erupting since Spring 2004.

"We're really excited to see if NW Rota-1 is still erupting,” Stern said. “Last time it was checked (April 2006), it was very active.”

The final dive takes place on the steep inner crater, or “caldera,” of the extinct volcano West Rota. The team plans two days of diving along the inner caldera wall to take a look at an exposed region that has been intensely altered and mineralized. The spot is thought to feature the roots of an ancient, underwater hydrothermal system that was exposed when the volcano collapsed.

Stern and Ribeiro have been to these deep waters before. They used a Shinkai 6500 submarine to sample the sea floor around the Challenger Deep portion of Mariana Trench. At a depth of nearly seven miles, it is the deepest place on earth. Stern’s research team expects to return to the area for 10 more ROV dives this summer.


Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Volcano Map

The three volcanoes to be studied are NW Rota-1, W Rota and Tracey.

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