Dozens of scientists from different countries, including China and the US, are set to start an expedition to the South China Sea to explore its formation as part of the International Ocean Discovery Programme. In the first of two expeditions, 33 scientists from China, the US, France and other countries boarded the US drilling ship JOIDES Resolution today, which was docked at a Hong Kong port. The scientists will explore the lithosphere extension during the continental breakup, by drilling four sites to a depth of 3,000 to 4,000 metres in the northern area of the South China Sea. The study will contribute to understanding how marginal basins grow, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Also Watch: [jwplayer tu38DWCG] A total of 66 scientists from 13 countries will participate in the expeditions lasting four months, it said. China has 26 scientists from top Chinese universities and research institutions on the expeditions, the most of any participating country. In the last few years, South China Sea dispute has come to the fore with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan contesting China's claims on almost of all of the area.