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Australian mission for undersea volcano specialists - 11/02/2000

Two New Zealand scientists have been asked by an Australian Government research organisation to investigate volcanic activity on the seafloor off Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Gary Massoth and Cornel de Ronde, of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited, have developed a reputation as specialists in sniffing out and analysing submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal vents.


The pair will join Australian scientists on the CSIRO research ship Franklin during May as it searches for active submarine volcanoes and studies the chemistry of the oceans north of Australia.

In 1994 a German-led expedition mapped a number of undersea volcanoes to the east of Papua New Guinea, but it is not known how many are active.

The Australian project plans to shed light on the nature of the volcanoes using a range of techniques including underwater video surveys, chemical sampling, and dredging.

de Ronde and Massoth gained international distinction in 1999 when, along with American colleague Ed Baker and Ian Wright of NIWA, they discovered six active volcanoes near the Kermadec Ridge, northeast of New Zealand, and analysed their plumes.

Until then no-one was sure how many of the volcanoes in this chain were active, and no-one knew if the volcanoes had associated black smokers – dark mineral-rich columns billowing from fissures in the seafloor.

One of the volcanoes they investigated in 1999, Brothers, is the seafloor equivalent of White Island in terms of its size and level of activity.

Dr de Ronde said the expertise they had developed in finding and sampling hydrothermal vents had resulted in approaches to do similar analysis at several locations around the world.

" The Australian project will give us an opportunity to compare the chemistry of the volcanoes near Papua New Guinea with those to the northeast of New Zealand," Dr de Ronde said.

" This should give us new insights into submarine volcanism, offshore mineral resources, ocean chemistry, and biological productivity in the oceans.

" Finding and analysing undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents is still fairly new science. It’s estimated that fewer than one percent of the world’s submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal vents have been systematically sampled."

Massoth and de Ronde will be using the same plume analysis techniques near Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as they used in the Kermadec area in 1999. The submarine volcanoes being targeted in the project north of Australia range in depth between 100m and 2000m

Australian scientists are keen to find out about submarine volcanism around PNG because it is thought that the minerals pumped out of black smokers may influence the chemical composition of seawater and biological productivity in the oceans to the north of Australia.


Cornel de Ronde
Minerals Geologist
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited
Ph: 04-570-1444 (reception), 04-570-4633 (direct)



Gary Massoth
Marine Geochemist
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited
Ph: 04-570-1444 (reception), 04-570-4878 (direct)




John Callan
Communications Co-ordinator
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited
Ph: 04-570-1444 (reception), 04-570-4732 (direct)