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Marine Geoscience program in the South Pacific



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MINISTER FOR

FOREIGN AFFAIRS No. M 1 0 8 Date 22 S e p t e m b e r 1 9 8 2

NEWS RELEASE THE HON. TONY STREET, M.P.

M A R I N E G E O S C I E N C E P R O G R A M I N T H E S O U T H P A C I F I C

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BACKGROUND TO PRESS STATEMENT

GEOSCIENTIFIC CRUISES IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC

Sponsored by Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America

Six South Pacific marine geological and geophysical projects

which ended last month were aimed at better understanding

the regional geology, and the mineral and petroleum

potential, of the island arcs of the Southwest Pacific.

The projects were financed by Australia, New Zealand

and the United States, and were carried out under the

auspices of CCOP/SOPAC*, a United Nations supported body

based in Suva, whose function is to search for offshore

minerals and other valuable resources in the South Pacific.

The research took place in the waters of Tonga, Fiji,

Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Participating scientists came from the three donor

countries, the five island countries involved, CCOP/SOPAC

and France. Each project had American and CCOP/SOPAC

nominated co-chief scientists; the latter included

Dr David Falvey of Sydney University and Dr Neville Exon

of the Bureau of Mineral Resources (BMR), Canberra.

Altogether there were 11■Australians aboard ship, drawn

from both the Bureau of Mineral Resources and from

universities belonging to the Australian Consortium of

Ocean Geoscientists (COGS).

Three projects used the 1500 tonne United States

Geological Survey research vessel S.P. Lee, which

normally works in the cold waters off the American west

coast including Alaska. There was no lack of volunteers

to work in the South Pacific for a change] The

projects were designed to better evaluate the petroleum

potential of offshore areas in Tonga, Vanuatu and the

Solomons. Research started from Pago Pago in late March,

and ended in Rabaul in early June.

* Committee for Coordination of Joint Prospecting for

Mineral Resources in South Pacific Offshore Areas.

The S.P. Lee concentrated on sophisticated multichannel

seismic surveying which revealed details of the

sedimentary strata to depths of more than 5 km beneath

the sea bed. A great deal of computer processing and

scientific analysis is needed before final results will

be available. During the surveying, continuous measurements

were also made of the Earth's magnetic and gravity fields.

These will provide additional information about the Earth's

crust in the region. Dredging and coring of outcrops

will allow the scientists to develop a more accurate idea

of the underlying strata.

Altogether about 8,000 km of high-quality seismic data

were obtained by the S.P. Lee in thick sedimentary basins

south of Tonga, and between the twin chains of Islands in

Vanuatu and the Solomons. An initial interpretation of

the results suggests that all three areas have some

petroleum potential.

A short survey was carried out in Rabaul Harbour at the

request of local volcanologists to provide additional

data for their surveillance program.

The other three projects used the 300 tonne University

of Hawaii research vessel Kana Keoki. This vessel's

projects were generally of a more basic research nature

than those conducted with the Lee. Kana Keoki started

from Pago Pago in late March, and ended at Honiara in

early June. The first project was an investigation of the

deep trench and volcanic islands 500 km north of Fiji.

The second studied the rifting of the basaltic oceanic

crust between Fiji and Vanuatu, where it was hoped metal

deposits would be forming as new basalt welled up to fill

the rifts. The third concentrated on the eastern

Solomon Sea and sea floor to the nearby volcanic islands

of New Georgia. Here the young crust of the sea floor

apparently plunges beneath the islands, to be melted at

depth, and then to be erupted as volcanic ash and lava.

3

The Kana Keoki projects recorded about 15,000 km of

seismic, magnetic and gravity data, and dredged or cored

the rocks and sediments of the sea bed at more than 60

localities. The results have already greatly improved

understanding of the local geology, and will help the

Geological Surveys of Fiji and the Solomon Islands to

interpret land geology and mineral prospects.

Many scientists will be involved in the evaluation of

these results over the next 18 months, and comprehensive

reports will be presented to the Island Governments, and

later published by CCOP/SOPAC. Initial project results

were presented at the Circum-Pacific Energy and Minerals

Conference in Hawaii in August this year.

All six projects were successful, both scientifically and

as examples of international cooperation. The substantial

financial input from the Australian Development Assistance

Bureau has been well rewarded. It is hoped that the

results will ultimately encourage petroleum exploration

companies to take up leases in the island countries.

Even one small oil field would drastically alter the

economic future of such countries.