University expedition to explore giant underwater cliff offshore Malta

International team of geologists will explore underwater cliff that extends 250 kilometres from Sicily to Malta

The Malta Escarpment is a 250km underwater cliff
The Malta Escarpment is a 250km underwater cliff

An international team of geologists will set out on a sea expedition called CUMECS-2 to explore the Malta Escarpment.

The Malta Escarpment is an underwater cliff that extends 250 km southwards from the eastern coast of Sicily towards the eastern coast of the Maltese Islands. In places, this cliff reaches a height of 3.5 km, which is higher than the nearby Mt Etna volcano, making it one of the largest features on the ocean’s floor. The cliff is incised by a series of deep valleys, resulting in a complex landscape that has been difficult to survey in the past.

The CUMECS-2 team, led by Dr Aaron Micallef from the Department of Physics, will use state-of-the-art technology on board the Italian research vessel OGS Explora to produce a detailed seafloor map of the cliff and collect samples from more than 3000 m water depth. This information will allow the scientists to understand the nature of the cliff and how it was formed. Answering these questions is important because the Malta Escarpment hosts natural hazards like underwater landslides and can potentially provide a good record of past earthquakes in the central Mediterranean.

The CUMECS-2 consists of scientists and students from the University of Malta, National Oceanography Centre (UK), National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), University College Dublin (Ireland) and Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e Geofisica (Italy).

The CUMECS-2 expedition departs from Catania on the 31st August 2014 and is part of SCARP, a project funded by an EU FP 7 Marie Curie Career Integration Grant.

People interested in the expedition can follow the activities on board the vessel on the cruise website and Facebook page (

More in Environment