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Scientists to study Tonga Trench

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
London (UPI) Apr 23, 2011
Scientists say they're planning an expedition to study one of the most seismically active fault lines in the world beneath the South Pacific.

The research will focus on the Tonga Trench, where the Pacific tectonic plate is being forced under the Indo-Australian plate, the BBC reported. The region is often called the "ring of fire" because of volcano and earthquake activity.

The island nation of Tonga is regularly hit by tremors from the fault line; most recently a 6.4-magnitude earthquake offshore shook the region.

The monthlong expedition will focus on an unusual zone on the seabed where undersea volcanoes are being dragged into the fault, the BBC said.

Britain's Natural Environment Research Council is funding the study.

"We want to know whether subducted seamounts are holding up earthquakes or whether they cause earthquakes," said Tony Watts, an Oxford University professor and one of the lead scientists on the expedition. "This is important to find out so that we can learn what controls earthquakes and make better assessments about where they may occur in the future."

Such subduction zones can trigger tsunamis, as in the case of the tsunami that struck Japan following last month's magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 13,000 people.

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