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New Zealand’s deep-sea research boosted by new partnership


Two New Zealand research organisations will work closely with one of the world’s leading ocean research and engineering organisations to accelerate research and exploration in a wide range of oceanographic topics in the southwest Pacific region.

GNS Science and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) of the United States that will see the three organisations combine their resources on scientific research of marine tectonics, submarine volcanism, and marine life in deep-sea environments.

The main area the organisations will focus on is the Kermadec Arc, which extends 1200km northeast of White Island in the Bay of Plenty and lies entirely within New Zealand’s marine territory. It contains some of the world’s most active submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal vents.

The hydrothermal vents are home to a wide range of marine life and there are  numerous deposits of metallic minerals along the arc.

The agreement sets up a framework for the three organisations to work together on scientific research and deep-ocean technologies. It also covers cooperative use of facilities, exchanges of staff and technical information, and sharing of costs.

The aim is to forge new paths in ocean exploration and research and advance the understanding of deep-ocean biodiversity.

Chief Executive of GNS Science, Alex Malahoff, said the three-way partnership  would lead to scientific discoveries of national and international significance.

“New Zealand has a vast ocean territory and stands to benefit hugely from working with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which has a global standing in ocean science,” Dr Malahoff said.

“We’re delighted that there is a formal arrangement that will see some of the world’s leading researchers focus their attention on scientific challenges that are so relevant to New Zealand.” 

Scientific areas covered in the agreement include seafloor mapping, marine tectonics, the physical and chemical nature of seafloor hydrothermal plumes, seafloor mineral deposits, seafloor volcanic systems, and marine microbiology.  

Rob Murdoch, General Manager of Research at NIWA, said using NIWA’s ocean-going capability and expertise in ocean geology and marine ecology, the partnership would provide opportunity to explore the valuable resources of the Kermadec Ridge through accessing world leading technologies.

Cornel de Ronde, a marine geologist and principal scientist at GNS Science, said New Zealand scientists were excited about complementing their scientific skills with those of their colleagues at WHOI.

“This agreement potentially enables better access to the outstanding marine technology that WHOI has developed, including a wide range of deep-sea research vehicles.”


Dan Fornari, a marine geologist and senior scientist at WHOI, said that the significant advances in deep-ocean vehicle exploration, including autonomous vehicles and remotely operated vehicles, which have been developed at WHOI with funding from the US National Science Foundation, have enormous potential for exploration of the Kermadec volcanoes.

“AUVs and ROVs operated by WHOI will provide much-needed access to the unique volcanic, geochemical and biological processes operating on seamounts in the Kermadec Arc.”

Malcolm Clark, a deepwater fisheries principal scientist at NIWA, said sampling the rich biodiversity of seamounts on the Kermadec Ridge would be greatly improved using the equipment available at WHOI.

“It will enable much more accurate and finer-scale knowledge of these unique seamount ecosystems.”

Tim Shank, a marine biologist and associate scientist at WHOI, said New Zealand had highly dynamic deep-sea settings with rich biological diversity. This meant scientists could focus on a well defined area, such as the Kermadec Arc, to address long-standing questions in deep-ocean research.

“We at WHOI are extremely excited to join with scientists and engineers of these two outstanding Crown Research Institutes to actively advance science through the exchange and growth of scientific knowledge and technology focused in the New Zealand region.”

Find out more about the ships and deep-sea technology available at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution here: