A Chinese drilling mission assisted by an advanced US vessel in the resource-rich South China Sea will lead to a breakthrough in gas, oil and methane exploration besides providing a new insight into the continental shelf break-up, experts have said.
With the help of the US' JOIDES Resolution, one of the world's most advanced ocean-drilling vessels, scientists have logged three sites at some 2,000 meters deep and completed a four-month research mission in the South China Sea, China Youth Daily reported.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.
Tongji University marine geologist Jian Zhimin, a co- leader of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) mission, said that the scientists collected samples, including sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
A study of the rocks indicates the South China Sea and the Atlantic Ocean were formed differently. Jian said the findings were so unique that they might have to rewrite textbooks on continental shelf break-up and ocean formation.
"The discovery is not only academically historic but also economically significant for the region," Liu Feng, an expert on South China Sea studies, told China's state run Global Times on Tuesday.
Understanding the continental shelf break-up and ocean formation of the South China Sea is crucial since it's closely related to the formation of gas, oil and combustible ice, Liu said.
Wang Pinxian, a marine geologist from Tongji University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the mission marks the first step in a three-part strategy for China to engage in international ocean drilling activities.
He said China aims to drill seabed in other oceans and set up the world's fourth seabed rock database and a laboratory before attempting to build an ocean drilling vessel.
China joined the IODP in 1998 and participated in three drilling missions in the South China Sea since 1999. The latest mission was proposed and led by Chinese scientists. Over 60 researchers from at least ten countries were involved.