Wharton Basin

The Imagination Behind Science

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” We should take his word for it, especially when it comes to science. As I walk around the Science Control Room on board the R/V Marion Dufresne, I witness a small army of experts keeping close tabs on endless spreadsheets, running equations or measuring maps with religious precision. It seems counterintuitive to think that passion and imagination are driving this research, yet they are. 

A Tour of Marion Dufresne

One week into the MIRAGE II expedition, the Marion Dufresne French research vessel is navigating its way to the Wharton Basin in the northeast corner of the Indian Ocean. Marion Dufresne is 120 metres long and weighs more than 10,000 tonnes when fully loaded. There are 59 cabins on board, as well as a hospital, pharmacy, conference centre, library, dining room, gym, and more.

Ocean’s Calling

Five centuries ago, Leonardo da Vinci noticed fossilised sea creatures encrusted in the rocks around his house. He began to wonder whether, at some point, the mountains had been underwater. Da Vinci was right of course, but he would not be around to hear scientists explain why it was possible. Plate tectonics, now considered the unifying theory of geology, was born in 1968. Its birth was not easy and was spared no drama.

The Tide

It happened at 7:58am (Indonesian time) on 26 December 2004. In a few instants, the equivalent of 370 years of energy use in the United States, or 550 million times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, was released off the west coast of Sumatra. While subducting beneath the Sunda Plate, the Indian Plate produced one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

The Mentawai Gap–Tsunami Earthquake Risk Assessment is a joint project between Schmidt Ocean Institute, the Earth Observatory of Singapore, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.


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