Director's Message on the MIRAGE Expedition

Earth Observatory Blog

Director's Message on the MIRAGE Expedition

This MIRAGE expedition is the first of two that will embark on a scientific mission to the Indian Ocean basin. (Source: DAMEN- Institut Polaire français Paul-Emile Victor)

Value of the MIRAGE:

The Indian Ocean basin has long fascinated geoscientists. Currently one of the most actively deforming oceanic basins in the world, it’s produced five great earthquakes in just the past ten years – ranging in magnitude from 8.2 to 9.2.

The ruptures that have produced these large earthquakes are complex, and many researchers have focused over the past decade on trying to understand them. The first three of these, in 2004, 2005, and 2007, resulted from sudden rupture of sections of the great Sunda megathrust, along which the tectonic plate beneath the Indian Ocean descends (“subducts”) beneath Sumatra. The most recent two occurred surprisingly far out in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of kilometers away from the Sunda megathrust and subduction zone.  They are also the largest horizontal-slip earthquakes ever recorded, either on land or beneath the sea. The earthquakes were caused by ruptures so complex that different seismologists, geodesists and geologists have produced very different explanations of what happened.

These facts and mysteries have motivated scientists at the Earth Observatory to embark on a scientific mission into the Indian Ocean that is aimed at collecting data directly from and beneath the sea floor. We expect to discover important new clues about the nature of these earthquakes and the breaking up of the oceanic plates there. 

Partnerships and collaborations developed for the MIRAGE:

Our mission is called the Marine Investigation of the Rupture Anatomy of the 2012 Great Earthquake (MIRAGE), and it involves an international consortium of research institutes.

The MIRAGE expedition is led jointly by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS). A second expedition to the region will take place in 2017.

One of the logistical challenges in conducting such a study has been securing an appropriate vessel with the appropriate equipment. France’s Institut Polaire Francais Paul Emile Victor (IPEV) stepped in to offer the R/V Marion Dufresne – France’s largest research vessel – for the 30-day expedition.

Marine Geoscience education at sea:

Although marine research has become increasingly important across the Asian region, there are still many countries that lack adequate capacity and capability to implement such studies.

Part of the expedition will be an on-board summer school aimed at training young scientists. This series of courses in marine geoscience and geohazards will engage young scientists and PhD students from the ASEAN-IOC WESPAC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission for the Western Pacific) countries.

Known as the 1st ASEAN-IOC WESTPAC Indian Ocean Floating Summer School on Marine Geoscience and Geohazard, this effort is the first of its kind in marine geoscience. While on board the R/V Marion Dufresne during the MIRAGE expedition, the participants will learn the basics of marine geology, marine geophysical data acquisition, and processing, and data interpretation.

Exposure of the participants to marine geoscience and geohazard research in one of the most interesting tectonic regions of the world will help prepare them to continue exploring the oceans and investigating natural hazards.

Past expeditions (MEGA-TERA) and the partnership with Schmidt Ocean Institute:

MIRAGE is the second marine expedition sponsored jointly by the Earth Observatory, IPG Paris and LIPI and co-led by IPGP Professor Satish Singh, a visiting professor at the Earth Observatory, and Professor Paul Tapponnier, head of the tectonics group at EOS. Last year’s MEGA-TERA expedition collected important data from the section of the Sunda megathrust that Observatory scientists have forecast will produce another great earthquake. That first expedition was made possible by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, which provided the Falkor, its research vessel and crew. Data from that mission are currently being analysed to glean insights about the future great Mentawai earthquake and tsunami.

And so I look forward to the success of this second international collaboration with our French and Indonesian partners.

Daily stories directly from the vessel will be shared every day in this special month-long series.  Please be sure to check the EOS blog for the latest updates on the MIRAGE expedition.

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