Explore the Deep Sea


South Pacific Expeditions

Expeditions to the Lau Basin.


Diagram showing the 3 main Ridge 2000 study sites in the Pacific.

A set of five expeditions aims to understand more about an area of the South Pacific known as "the Lau Basin." Lying within the territorial waters of the Kingdom of Tonga, this ocean basin is chock-full of underwater volcanoes and vents, and contains a multitude of exotic lifeforms. Each expedition will gather information which it will hand to the next, so that researchers can quickly build on what has been discovered.

What are we trying to find out?

Researcher Dan Fornari in the ship's computer lab. Image courtesy of Kristen Kusek

Expeditions to the Lau Basin help us learn how new ocean floor is created, what affects the chemical and physical conditions around seafloor vents, and how living creatures survive in these environments ("from mantle to microbe"). We aim to answer questions such as:

Why here? A unique system

A black smoker. Image courtesy of Chuck Fisher.

We aim to learn by comparing what goes on in the Lau basin with what we know about other areas of volcanic activity, such as mid-ocean ridges and hotspots. By finding similarities and differences between observations and measurements, we can see whether particular theories hold or fail. » More about the lure of Lau

Passing the baton

The first two expeditions in the series concentrated on mapping the seafloor, investigating its geology, and locating underwater geysers — vents. Later expeditions explore these vents in more detail, together with the animals and microbes found there. Not all the research will take place at sea. For many researchers, an expedition is just the beginning. They and their colleagues will continue their research on shore, analyzing the copious information collected while on-board ship.

Finding a long-term study site in the Lau Basin: the bull's eye

An overall aim of this set of five expeditions is to identify one site for future detailed investigations by Ridge 2000 researchers from many different fields of study: biologists, chemists, geologists and others.
» More about the sites discovered and / or studied by the expeditions.

Next: Expedition 1 of 5: seafloor mapping, April 2004