SYDNEY, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- Several teams of scientists from Australia and Scotland have set sail on Wednesday to explore two chains of underwater volcanoes in the Coral Sea.
Leaving from the Northern Australian city of Cairns onboard the research vessel Investigator, the focus of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS)-led mission is to collect data and samples from the seafloor to determine when the huge plateaus were formed and if they're still volcanically active.
As well working below the surface, a separate team of scientists will also be studying the vast area's abundant seabird life.
"Volcanic hotspots under the seafloor were critical in the evolution of the Coral Sea region between Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia," the voyage's Chief Scientist, IMAS Associate Professor Joanne Whitaker said.
"However, we don't yet fully understand the timing, extent and history of the hotspots that brought volcanic material to the surface, shaping the Australian plate."
"The data we gather will help us to test hypotheses about the age and evolution of the seabed, the extent of continental crust, and long parallel chains of seamounts that have formed as Australia moved northwards over the hotspots."
With the region also home to Australia's Coral Sea Marine Park, Whittaker said that understanding the seafloor will also offer great insights into the area's wildlife habitats.
"The seafloor habitats in the marine park are poorly understood and we aim to improve our knowledge of how and why marine life varies in the region," he said.
"The geomorphology of the seafloor is a key influence on the Coral Sea's biodiversity, especially deepwater habitats, so our research will include examining how different habitats are distributed and how this relates to seafloor structures."
"Gathering data about the seabirds that we observe during the voyage will also play an important role in informing future management plans for Australia's marine environment."
"The Coral Sea is vital to a range of Pacific nations and we hope to be able to survey within the exclusive economic zones of some of our neighbours so we can gather and share data and insights with our international colleagues," Whittaker added.
The ship is expected to return to Brisbane on September 3.