Lost beach buoy discovered in North Queensland


16 September 2010

A valuable seismometer buoy, deployed three years ago in an ocean trench, more than five kilometres deep, north of New Zealand, has been found washed up on a North Queensland beach.

Seismometers measure the movement of the ground, including earthquake activity.

The buoy's near-miraculous retrieval after two and a half years in one of the world's deepest ocean trenches, and a journey across thousands of kilometres of the Coral Sea will provide scientists with valuable data they had feared lost forever.

The mystery began on August 4thwhen the buoy was found at Alva Beach, south of Townsville by a local family who had no idea what the huge device was.

The beached buoy looks like a combination between an escapee from the early Russian space program and a Dr Who Dalek and was so heavy it required several people to drag it from the sea's edge.

Fortunately the family contacted AIMS at nearby Cape Ferguson and asked for advice.

AIMS staff who have considerable expertise in development and deployment of a range of buoys and drifters, initially thought it may be one of the Institute's devices.

AIMS Engineering and Field Operations Manager, Gary Brinkman, went to Alva Beach to investigate and quickly realised that the buoy was extremely valuable – not just monetarily but also scientifically.

He was able to determine it was an ocean bottom seismometer belonging to Professor Ernst Flueh of the Leibniz-Institute in Germany.

Professor Flueh was ecstatic that the seismometer had been retrieved more than two and a half years after the German team realised it had escaped.

The seismometer was deployed in the Kermadec Trench, north of New Zealand, in a depth of 5,230 metres, with fifteen other instruments.

Professor Flueh has offered a reward to the family that retrieved the device.

‘For us, the recovery of the instrument is not only the value of the instrument in terms of money - (about 30 k Euro), even more the data stored on the instrument that otherwise would be lost,' he said.

What is still unknown is how the seismometer escaped.

‘The fact that the anchor hook is still closed means to me - at the moment - that the instrument was at the bottom, and only now did the anchor rust, so it popped up and drifted ashore after about 2 to 2.5 years at the seafloor.'

He said normally the instrument was very reliable.  ‘From about 5000 deployments we lost 25 instruments, thus there is a 99.5% recovery rate.'

Mr Brinkman said the buoy would soon be disassembled, packed up and shipped to Professor Flueh in Germany.

‘This discovery highlights the need for the public to alert authorities when something like this is found in the marine environment,' Mr Brinkman said.

Photos available for use at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aims_gov_au/sets
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For further information contact:

Gary Brinkman, AIMS Engineer and Field Operations Manager, (07) 4753 4534; 0427 594 416; g.brinkman@aims.gov.au

Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison, (07) 4753 4409; 0418 729 265; w.ellery@aims.gov.au

Prof. Dr. Ernst R. Flueh, Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, Germany, Tel: +49 - (0)431-6002328

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