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Expeditions


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Fidgeting and planning, and good news for Frank

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Editor’s Note: University of Southern California geobiologist Katrina Edwards is taking part in a three-week drilling project at the Atlantic’s North Pond—a sediment-filled valley on the ocean floor—designed to locate and study what she calls the “intraterrestrials”: the myriad microbial life-forms living inside Earth’s crust. This is her ninth blog post. To track her research ship’s current position, click here. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in North Pond."

STEAMING BACK TO THE NORTH POND (February 28, 2009)—We have a ship full of sleep-deprived scientists who are very ready to get back to station after steaming back to North Pond at full speed from the rendezvous with the rescue helicopter. This morning’s breakfast discussions revolved around strategies for: staying in your bunk versus abandoning it and finding some way to wedge yourself somewhere on the ground; creative mechanisms of arranging one’s mattress in the bunk that stabilizes you; and the advantages and disadvantages to being fully strapped down. This, followed by discussions about varied and very bizarre dreams that tend to result from attempting to sleep while being flung here and there all night long. Of course, much of this discussion was in German so I missed quite a bit, but I may have picked up on a few new ideas to try tonight—the last night under steam before coring.

All this bouncy transit is taxing, but I’ll point out some of the real benefits coming from this unexpected downtime. I’ve already talked about the planning we were able to do on where to drill next. The other side we’ve been actively working on is "what to do with the core when it comes up." Mind you, it’s not like we did not have a game plan before, but every site and every ship and every team is different.

For example, one of the really interesting things we observed so far is that there are very distinct layers that are rich in clay versus ones that are sandy. The sands look to us to be foraminifera, small carbonate-precipitating marine organisms that are ubiquitous in the oceans. The interesting thing to us is that there are differences in chemistry between sands and clays. Now that we know what they are and where they occur, we know where to target.

Before, when our biogeochemists were taking measurements in the drill core, they simply did so at regular intervals. They had no data to go by. But now, because we have a better idea of where exactly these layers occur—at least as far down as eight meters [26-feet] into sediment—we now know how to take better samples for biological and chemical measurements.

The other important development was that we were able to really experiment with a few different analytical approaches for making our measurements, and figure out which are more accurate for these particular samples. You always go at these things blind and try to come prepared with several tricks up your sleeves, but now we know for sure—we’ll be ready.

Finally, the real great news to come from all this transit and changed plans: Frank the steward is doing well—looks like he’ll keep his thumb and is heading home to recuperate.

Photo of researchers making core hydrogen measurements courtesy Katrina Edwards/USC





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