SIX scientists from Shanghai’s Tongji University will be part of the second ocean drilling expedition to the South China Sea that will set off next week.
The IODP Expedition 349 will drill three sites into the basement of the seabed to seek answers to the long-debated question of how old the South China Sea is, chief Chinese scientist Li Chunfeng said in Shanghai yesterday.
The team of 31 international scientists, including 13 Chinese, will be on board the D/V “Joides Resolution” which will set off from Hong Kong on January 28, said Li, who is a professor of Tongji’s School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and a deputy director of State Key Laboratory of Marine Geology.
Besides Chinese, nine scientists from the United States, three from Europe, two from Japan, and one each from South Korea, India, Australia and Brazil will be on board. There are two observers from the Philippines and Chinese Taipei.
“Scientists have been debating for decades over whether the South China Sea was formed 32 million years ago. Our expedition will help determine the accurate ages, which are critical to unraveling other regional scientific problems,” Li said. Two drilling sites will be in the east sub-basin of the South China Sea while the third will be in the southwest sub-basin.
The drilling will penetrate nearly 2,000 meters into the basement at about 4,000 meters water depth to collect rock samples of different ages within different magnetic zones of the sea.
“The samples will provide direct constraints on the age of underlying basement of the South China Sea and critical information on how the crust and mantle evolved during various stages of basin evolution,” Li said.
If it succeeds, the expedition will set a new record in drilling depth after the first expedition in 1999 which cored a maximum of 850 meters of sediments at a site of 2,000 to 3,000 meters water depth in the South China Sea. The first expedition made great contributions to the study of the history of climatic environment of the South China Sea.
“IODP Expedition 349 will also be the first time for scientists to get samples of oceanic basalts formed with the opening of the South China Sea,” Li said, adding that drilling will be very difficult because the rocks in the deeper part are much harder and have different chemical compositions.