Wednesday, September 16, 1998

ByGeorge F. Lee, Star-bulletin
Japanese research scientist Nori Kyo
waves goodbye to the Kairei as it pulls away
from Pier Nine Friday afternoon. Working
in conjunction with the remotely operated
vehicle Kaiko, the pair have made all the
sea floors of the world's oceans accessible.

At the
bottom of
the sea

Scientists from Hawaii, the
mainland and Japan use the
world's deepest-diving vessel
for ground-breaking research
around Hawaii

By Helen Altonn


Hawaii scientists are getting a rare close look at the sea floor and learning a lot about the island chain's origin and geology.

They're using the world's deepest-diving remotely operated vehicle and most advanced deep sea ship for research off Oahu, Molokai and the Big Island.

The Kairei, meaning "ocean ridge," and remotely operated vehicle Kaiko, meaning "trench," belong to the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center.

Truth Contest Hilton The $35 million vehicle has been used since 1995 to explore trenches and other ocean areas that manned submersibles can't reach. Its mother ship, costing $60 million, was completed last year.

"Working in concert, the Kairei and Kaiko have, for the first time ever, made all sea floors of the world's oceans accessible," the Japanese science center said.

The Kaiko is capable of diving nearly seven miles, said Motoyasu Miyata, senior researcher in Japan's Earth Science and Technology Organization. He is liaison for the Hawaii Project at the International Pacific Research Center.

Michael Garcia, University of Hawaii geology and geophysics professor, said the remotely operated vehicle "worked better in Hawaii than it has anywhere else," setting a record off Oahu on its 90th dive.

He said they put it on the ocean bottom and drove it up a hillside at the Tuscaloosa seamount - a remnant of an ancient Oahu landslide. "It covered more distance vertically and laterally than it ever has before."

Japanese scientists, led by Jiro Naka, have been working with UH and U.S. Geological Survey researchers on the ship since Aug. 24. The cruises will end Sunday.

It's hoped the venture will be the start of a special, long-term scientific relationship between Hawaii and Japan, said Garcia, U.S. coordinator for the project between the Japanese agency and the UH School of Ocean, Earth Science and Technology.

They have proposed bringing Japan's deepest diving manned submersible, Shinkai 6500, to Hawaii next year for 30 dives, Gracia said.


"It will be an exciting continuation of this program. It will allow us to test some hypotheses being developed from this year's work."

Free use of a ship costing $40,000 to $50,000 a day to operate is a huge bonanza for isle scientists, particularly with tight U.S. research funding.

Some Japanese scientists are interested in the kind of features Hawaii has so the Japanese agency is paying all expenses for the ship, said John R. Smith Jr., Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory researcher.

"All of us scientists are bootlegging the science basically, doing it on our own," he said. As for analyzing the samples, he said, "It's kind of a question what funds we'll use for that. But we're trying to take advantage of using this facility."

"The ship is brand new - a beauty, 340 feet long," said UH oceanographer Gary McMurtry. He said he kept telling UH graduate students who participated, "This is not how it is. Don't get spoiled."

Garcia said he "can't even begin to estimate" what it cost the Japanese to come to Hawaii for the project. It's not just a matter of fuel and salaries, he said, "but they could be doing other things that more directly benefit the Japanese government."

He noted, however, "a special feeling between Hawaii and the Japanese people." Also, he said, "Hawaii is an exciting place to do research where a lot of exciting geology is going on, from active volcanoes to giant landslides."

The scientists have been sampling rocks and sediment cores and mapping the sea floor with a high-resolution sonar system.

ByGeorge F. Lee, Star-bulletin
A Japanese technician aboard the research
vessel Kairei secures the piloting station for the r
emote vehicle Kaiko shortly before the ship
left Honolulu Harbor.

Smith said they found rocks that had been formed on land, indicating large sea floor blocks off Oahu and Molokai are from landslides, just as scientists have thought.

They found layers of volcanic material on top of Tuscaloosa seamount, Smith said. "The favorite theory is it was a piece of Oahu island. The same kind of thing is off Molokai but the blocks are not as large."

McMurtry said the Tuscaloosa block, about 60 miles off Oahu, is "just amazing. There's no way anybody would have called that a seamount if they had seen the high resolution stuff first. It's clearly a giant block of land."

It's believed to be a remnant of an avalanche that swept part of Oahu along the Nuuanu Pali into the sea. It's one of the world's largest undersea landslides.

McMurtry said it's "a large hunk of Oahu" that looks like an aircraft carrier. It's about 12 miles long and six miles wide with scarps almost 5,000 feet high, he said.

"What was amazing to all of us was how it got so far out there and stayed in one piece," McMurtry said. "It's been sitting out there probably a couple million years."

A Molokai landslide that was mapped was probably bigger than Tuscaloosa, maybe 16 miles long and four or five miles wide, McMurtry said. "But it looks like it has broken." It is known as the Wailau debris avalanche, he said.

The scientists also studied Loihi, the active undersea volcano off the Big Island; the Koolau slump north of Oahu's Koolau Volcano; and Kilauea's landslide, the Hilina slump.

McMurtry said there is a lot of interest at high levels in Japan in topics concerning Hawaii scientists, such as how and when submarine landslides form.

"Everyone recognizes when they do go, there is a tsunami threat

"The idea is to learn a little more about these features. It's all one big basin of water," he added.


Come and see

Bullet What: Open house on Japan's deep sea research vessel Kairei

Bullet When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Bullet Where: Pier 9 in Honolulu Harbor

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