A group of University of Hawaii students and scientists are headed to the Lo'ihi sea mount, the active underwater volcano off of the southeastern coast of the Big Island.
Lo'ihi is about 1,000 yards below the ocean's surface and is believed to become the next Hawaiian island. It's where University of Hawaii researchers hope to explore depths that no one has seen before.
"For anybody who's been to Volcanos National Park before, it looks like that. There's a lot of lava rock but it's all covered with rust," said Dr. Brian Glazer, an assistant professor of oceanography at UH Manoa.
The two-week journey took seven years to get to this point. The main goal is focused on research and a whole lot of mapping.
"On a global scale, we've mapped less than 5 or 10 percent of the ocean floor, we just don't know what's down there. That's one of the primary goals of this expedition," said Glazer.
Scientists believe they'll be able to map an area 10 times larger than what's been logged so far. To do that, it's bringing along an automated underwater robot.
"It's pre-programmed to go out and mow the lawn. Mapping at 4,000 to 5,000 meters where it really has been unexplored before. If we're really lucky we'll find evidence of new vents that haven't been discovered at those depths," said Glazer.
Experts say Lo'ihi's summit looks like a volcano leaking iron and a lot of it's rusted over. They want to study that chemistry, saying it's a pivotal part of this trip.
"It's kind of like looking at the ground from an airplane versus actually walking across the ground and you get a different scale of resolution, you understand what the topography looks like," said Glazer.
The crew's ship is called the Falkor. It's scheduled to leave from Sand Island for Lo'ihi Wednesday morning. It's operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, which isn't based in Hawaii, but has been working with UH students on six projects so far this year. We're told the institute is currently creating what would be the only autonomous underwater vehicle to reach a depth of 11,000 meters. It hopes to launch that device in Hawaii next year.
Click here for pictures of Lo'ihi.