A Hampshire scientist has joined an ambitious scientific experiment to try to drill deeper than ever before into the ocean floor.

It is hoped the ground-breaking project will provide massive insights into how the planet's geology works, and in particular shed new light on what causes earthquakes and whether there are any tell-tales that could warn people of imminent danger.

In the first phase of the expedition, which is taking place in deep water off the coast of Japan, scientists will attempt the longest period of scientific drilling ever undertaken from a boat.

If the drilling, which is being done from a specially designed 200m long boat, goes according to plan it will eventually allow scientists to place monitoring equipment and take samples from up to 6km under the sea floor.

From this depth they should be able to learn much more about what causes a type of tremor called a large-scale subduction earthquake, and what forces are involved.

These quakes occur where two of the Earth's tectonic plates collide pushing one below the other, and have led to some of the planet's most violent earthquake events - such as the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake in the Indian Ocean, which triggered the gigantic tsunami that killed more than 300,000 people.

Lecturer Dr Lisa McNeill from the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre is one of the British scientists joining the expedition.

Dr McNeil, who is due to take a leading role in the second phase of the project in 2009, said she hoped the expedition would lead to a much better understanding of what exactly causes earthquakes and why tremors around subduction zones can be so powerful and deadly.