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The Tuvuvar volcano has remained active since the 1994 eruption which devastated the town of Rabaul.
Photo: Chris Johnson

March 21, 2001
Rabaul
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from Rabaul, New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

The beauty of this landscape is unparalleled. During this past leg, most of our time at sea has been spent in sight of land which supports rich lowland rainforests, but is best known for its rugged mountain spine of volcanic origins, dating back 1.9 million years.

We have just completed a valuable two and a half-week survey of the Bismarck and Solomon Seas. This unique environment evidently supports an abundance of marine mammals. This proved to be an incredible trip with a daily bonanza of whale and dolphin sightings. One of the most exciting included, a first for the Fraser's dolphin, which has never been documented in the Bismarck Sea before according to visiting scientist Dr Frank Bonaccorso.

It appears as though the severe bathymetric features below the sea, mirror the dramatic geographic features of the land. Although Papua New Guinea does not boast the deepest ocean trench, it does have some of the steepest. New Britain Trench, for instance, is one of the trenches we traversed a few days ago, plunged to a depth of 8,300 meters. Although numerous deep-sea trenches exist around the world, very few extend above the surface and rise up to support a rainforest habitat. These steep 'surface' trenches, originate at the ocean floor, extending upward at a severe angle to the mountain summit, one of the unique features that makes this area so special.

The rich upwelling forced to the surface from the base of these deep ocean trenches, supports a high density of marine species. This deep ocean environment combines and overlaps with mangrove, sea meadow and reef habitats, which is the catalyst for the richest marine environment in the world.

The majority of deep ocean trenches occur at the ocean basin where two continental plates converge and one slides beneath the other. Many geologic processes occur along these convergent boundaries. Upwelling of magma from the melting crust of the lower plate leads to volcanism. Mountains are formed, deep ocean trenches are created and earthquakes and tsunamis may occur. The Indonesian and New Guinea region is probably one of the most geologically active regions in the world, nowhere is this more evident than the in volcanically devastated port town of Rabaul.

Once a beautiful tropical city and regional center, Rabaul is now a wasteland. Surrounded by a backdrop of seven volcanoes, it is nestled directly beneath the still smoking caldera of Tuvurver, a constant reminder of the 1994 eruption that leveled the town, burring it beneath a blanket of volcanic ash. Over the next couple of days in port, the Odyssey crew will provision and perform routine maintenance tasks on board, in preparation for our next leg. We are looking forward to having some time to explore the devastated town of Rabaul, a modern day Pompeii.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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