Saturday, January 25, 2014

South China Sea questions unite Philippines and China - in science

From InterAksyon (Jan 25): South China Sea questions unite Philippines and China - in science

Section of a map showing where the International Ocean Discovery Program intends to drill during its expedition to determine the age of the West Philippine Sea and how it was formed (

An international expedition will be launched late this month in an attempt to determine the age of one of the world’s most contentious bodies of water, the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, a science journal reports.

The expedition also hopes to resolve controversy over how the South China Sea, which is an important sea-lane and fishing ground believed to lie on top of rich resources, was formed, the journal Nature said.

It will be the first expedition for the International Ocean Discovery Program, which includes scientists from China and the Philippines, countries locked in a bitter dispute over territories both claim, as well as India and the United States.

It will set out from Hong Kong on January 28 on the research vessel JOIDES Resolution.

The Nature article says the South China Sea, which has an areas of more than 3 million square kilometers and thousands of islands and reefs, “occupies a scientifically interesting position between the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and the deepest point on Earth’s surface, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean.”

The report quoted Dieter Franke, a geologist at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Hannover, Germany, as saying it is “a natural laboratory for studying continent break-ups and sedimentary-basin formation.”

It also quoted Franke, who is not involved in the expedition, as saying the sea’s “relatively small size and young age (between 25 million and 42 million years old) compared with major ocean basins (the Pacific plate can be traced back at least 200 million years) mean that it is possible to probe its entire history through just a couple of IODP expeditions.”

University of the Philippines marine geologist and project member Alyssa Peleo-Alampay also says in the article that the expedition could facilitate earthquake research of the Manila Trench, which was formed as the oceanic crust of the South China Sea began to sink beneath the Philippine Sea plate, a process, the report says, “that continues today and causes frequent quakes.”

“A proper understanding of the South China Sea is long overdue,” Alampay said.

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