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Voyage to the abyss

British scientists set sail today to investigate a vast area in the middle of the Atlantic where the Earth’s crust gapes, and the deep interior of the Earth is exposed.

Marine geologist Dr Chris MacLeod, from Cardiff’s School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, said of the abyss in Earth's crust: "Was the crust never there? Was it once there but then torn away on huge geological faults? If so, then how and why?"

Marine geophysicist Professor Roger Searle of Durham University leads the expedition of scientists from Cardiff University, British Geological Survey engineers, and a senior researcher from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. They will travel to the area, which lies mid-way between the Cape Verde Islands and the Caribbean, on the maiden voyage of the most advanced research ship in the world.

The RRS James Cook, built at a cost of £100 million, will carry the expedition personnel, sonars to image the seafloor and a robotic seabed drill to take rock cores. It appears to be a unique opportunity to see inside the Earth.

Science Daily has more details. Progress can be monitored via a live classroom web link to the ship.