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Expeditions

Expeditions


Field notes from the far reaches of exploration
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On board a research ship, change is the one constant

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


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Editor’s Note: Peggy Delaney is sailing on a newly refurbished research vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, that left Honolulu on March 10 with an international group of researchers on board. The ship, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, conducts scientific investigations beneath the seafloor by drilling the ocean floor and retrieving long “cores” of mud for testing and data collection. This is her eleventh blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."

SOMEWHERE IN THE MID-PACIFIC (April 21, 2009)—We typically core several holes at one site so as to construct a complete section by overlapping cores from adjacent holes to fill any coring gaps. As we got started really looking at the cores from this site, we realized that there were a fair number of turbidites (material that had been transported in from elsewhere) nearby—probably from a seamount—and been deposited rather suddenly. This type of deposition makes it really difficult to use a site for ocean history purposes.

So, after some deliberation of different possible schedules and time remaining, the decision was made to stop coring this site after the completion of the second hole. That just gives us enough time to transit to a new site, originally scheduled to be completely drilled on the next expedition, a partnership expedition with ours. We will only have time to do one hole at that site, leaving the rest for the next science party.

What does this mean? Well, rather than working on our final site right now, we are gearing up again, mentally and intellectually, for a new site—and a new opportunity to be the first to see something from below the seafloor that we have only imaged using indirect means (seismic surveys). Another site, a new set of samples, another site report. I need to remind myself of the enormous privilege this represents—to use the incredible capabilities of this drilling vessel to sample sub-seafloor sediments—to gear myself up for the new effort. And I remember how lucky I am to be here: doing this work, in the middle of this splendid ocean, with talented and interesting and kind colleagues.

We have been surrounded by sea life in recent days, as we have held still on station, all lit up at night. We saw a number of white-tipped sharks circling through schools of small fish. Other fish shadowed the white-tips, swimming just to their side and behind. Groups of mahi-mahi swam by, glimmering. Today, we got to see a whale shark! It was big and beautiful [see photo above]. More than just seeing this, it is the opportunity to briefly flee the labs and the computers and the work, going out like kids at recess to hang over the side of the ship and say, "There! Look there. No, there!" I haven’t seen the sea turtle yet, but some have.

Like other expeditions, the particular details of what I did on a specific day will fade when I reach shore. But I will remember the whale shark and the beautiful rainbow one day, and the birds flying and the ocean stretching to the horizon.

Photo of a whale shark by Kelly VonDrehle, courtesy Peggy Delaney





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