Ask an Explorer

Questions answered during the expedition are below.

Question:
Has the advent of the earthquake in your study region changed the status or agenda of the cruise? It would be fascinating to see how the benthic communities and gas releases were affected by the quake.

— Lisa
Center for the Environment
Plymouth State University

Answer:
When we heard about the earthquake our initial concerns were for the safety and welfare of the loved ones of our Chilean colleagues. They were nearly all able to reach their families within 12 hours, thanks to satellite phones that the ship made available. After that, we started to ponder how we could take advantage of our position off of Chile to understand how these major events happen and what they do to the seafloor and the life on it.

To study this, we would begin by acoustically mapping the seafloor with the recently calibrated shipboard multibeam system and by looking for any changes compared with previous acoustic maps. This system sends out acoustic pulses at a range of frequencies in a range of directions in order to accurately determine the bathymetry of the seafloor. (For example, at 1,000 meter (3,821 feet) depth, we map a swath of the seafloor 4,000 m (13,123 ft) wide). Any further study would begin with geological changes to the bathymetry in the region by faults, rifts, underwater slides, etc.

When we heard news of the earthquake, we considered modifying the cruise plan to incorporate an effort to map the seafloor around the epicenter using the multibeam. We sent out emails to experts around the globe requesting any existing maps or information and checking to see if an expedition to do this was being proposed. In doing so, we learned that a rapid-response cruise effort is currently being mounted to deploy more sophisticated and sensitive instrumentation than we currently have aboard ship. As soon as we found out that the launch of this expedition was eminent we decided to continue our expedition as planned.

— Dr. Andrew Thurber
Expedition Chief Scientist

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


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