Aussie scientists map 100,000 km2 of uncharted seafloor

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SYDNEY, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Australian scientists have returned from an epic 57-day voyage aboard the research vessel Investigator in which they mapped 100,000 km2 of seafloor off Australia's west and south west coasts.

The team, led by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), pulled into Perth on Friday bringing with them data and samples dredged from thousands of metres beneath the ocean surface.

The main purpose of the voyage was to explore the break up of two tectonic plates -- Broken Ridge and the Kerguelen Plateau, to the west and southwest of Australia, which separated 43 million years ago.

"We used an echo sounder to map the seafloor of the two features and then we used a seismic reflection system to actually see beneath the sea floor, what the structures were," Voyage Chief Scientist, IMAS Professor Mike Coffin told Xinhua.

"And we also collected rocks, so we just dragged a chain bag along the seafloor and it brought up a lot of rocks for us."

The area of study for the voyage was all uncharted seafloor and Coffin explained it was hugely exciting to glimpse parts of the earth's surface for the very first time.

The weather was relatively mild compared with other voyages allowing researchers to conduct plenty of studies as they went, collecting rocks from five km down and data from up to seven km deep.

"We can essentially map the seafloor in real time so we instantaneously see what we're mapping," Coffin said.

He said that other kinds of data require more processing which will be a collaboration with universities around the world, and coffin expects to last at least five years after the voyage, going through all the samples in detail. Enditem

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