Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 12:27 UK

Experts study undersea volcanoes

RSS James Cook
The RSS James Cook will ferry the scientists to the Atlantic

Scientists from Durham University are to use robots to explore the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to study the growth of underwater volcanoes.

The Durham experts will lead an international team of 12 scientists sailing from the Azores on 23 May.

The five-week expedition will see explorer robots map individual volcanoes on tectonic plates almost two miles (3km) below the surface.

It is hoped the study will show how long it takes the volcanoes to form.

Prof Roger Searle, of the university's department of earth sciences, said: "The problem is that we don't know how fast these volcanoes form or if they all come from melting the same piece of mantle rock.

"Understanding the processes is important, because the whole ocean floor, some 60% of the Earth's surface, has been recycled and re-formed many times over the Earth's history."

Professor Searle's team will include scientists from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, the Open University, the University of Paris and several institutions in the USA.

The work is funded by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, which also owns and operates the RRS James Cook, which will be used for the expedition.


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