An international team of scientists, including University of Utah professor Patrick McMurtry, left San Diego aboard a converted fishing vessel Oct. 29 on a two-week expedition to study an extinct and mysterious underwater volcano in the turbulent Pacific far off the coast of Mexico's Baja California.
Scientists from the United States, Mexico and Canada will make the first systematic study of Rocas Alijos, a mysterious seamount in an isolated area of the lower eastern Pacific, where several hurricanes passed through earlier this year.Cordell Expeditions of Walnut Creek, Calif., will lead the 31-member expedition, made up mostly of biologists and oceanographers. McMurtry is a marine archaeologist. The crew will also be accompanied by a Los Angeles filmmaker.
In terms of searching for unique species of animal and plant life, the Rocas Alijos trip will be similar to English naturalist Charles Darwin's famous 1835 expedition to the Galapagos Islands in the Colon Archipelago.
McMurtry, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, says the Alijos project will map the underwater depths of the seamount, document the rock structures and underwater environment, and collect as many biological specimens as possible.
As an authority on fluid dynamics, McMurtry's role at Alijos will be to "attempt to correlate the distribution of marine life on these rocks and this underwater volcano as a function of flow current.
"Understanding fluid dynamics is important to this kind of project, especially for interpreting the complex currents in the vicinity of the rocks."
With nearly 1,000 scuba dives to his credit, many of them off the northern coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the U. professor is an authority on ocean current effects on marine life distribution. He is an experienced scuba diver.
Trip coordinator Ron Skinner, an engineering physics graduate of Cornell University, says Alijos is totally isolated from the Mexican coast and from other islands. This isolation will provide scientists with the opportunity to study a unique ecosystem.