'Jason' the underwater robot makes first trip to the Hikurangi Subduction Zone

An underwater robot is being used to study the Hikurangi subduction zone off the east coast of New Zealand - and finding some interesting forms of life along the way.

East Coast Labs said today that their robot Jason was recently lowered into the depths from the US research vessel Roger Revelle, where is installed instruments, took samples and downloaded data from observatories already in place.

It also discovered large populations of tube worms near the vents, where water emerges from deep down inside the fault.

"Water emerging at the sea floor is a messenger from the deep," voyage leader Evan Solomon from the University of Washington said.

"The make-up of the water will tell us about the environment deep down beneath the seafloor where earthquakes occur."

The laboratory is currently studying the Hikurangi Subduction Zone in order to better understand the processes at work, and how they could affect New Zealand during earthquake events in the future.

Jess Hillman of GNS Science said this is the first time a remotely-operated vehicle has been used at the zone.

"This will help us to understand the wider processes that drive the likelihood and type of earthquakes that occur at faults beneath the sea floor," Ms Hillman said.

Along with tubeworms, it was found that the zone also harbours populations of mussels, krill, crabs and gooseneck barnacles.

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