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 first blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."
HONOLULU (March 7, 2009)—I've just boarded the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific drill ship that will be my home for the next two months. We leave port here in three days, but there's lots to do before that.
This is the JOIDES' first expedition since its renovations. More on those renovations—which are really something!—in future blogs. First, some details about the expedition, Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 320. It's the first of two back-to-back expeditions. The goal is to construct a transect of sites that allow us to study sediment deposition patterns over the past 50 million years in the Pacific equatorial region, specifically the early Eocene through the middle Miocene epochs.
The equatorial Pacific is an important region in the world's ocean for biological productivity. Understanding the history of deposition there at high temporal resolution is critical to the carbon cycle in the past, including questions like the deposition patterns of calcium carbonate skeletal material from planktonic organisms; what organisms were important in the water column; when and how this influenced and was influenced by nutrient cycles, wind patterns, biological evolution, etcetera. We also want to be able to assign ages to past sediment deposition and how plate motion worked in detail through time.
There are six primary sites to be drilled and cored on these two expeditions. Pacific plate motion means that a site that used to be at the equator has moved northwest with time. Using the history of plate motion and the ages of the crust, members of this and other expeditions have targeted different sites that capture different time windows of equatorial deposition.
I am sailing as one of two inorganic geochemists—Nikolaus Gussone is the other. Ken Sawada is the organic geochemist. We are assisted in the chemistry laboratory by two talented technicians, Chris Bennight and Yulia Vasileyeva.
Nikolaus and I are responsible for geochemical analyses of the interstitial waters that we extract shipboard from the buried sediments. This tells us things that have happened in the sediments, like calcium carbonate alteration, organic matter oxidation and postdepositional alteration of biogenic -- organically produced -- opal, along with information about reactions that take place in the underlying oceanic crust. We also analyze the inorganic geochemistry of the sediments shipboard, to help form a framework for targeting later sampling.
Sawada is responsible for analyzing and interpreting the organic carbon composition of these sediments. We chemists are all responsible for shipboard analyses of calcium carbonate, one of the major sediment components.
Every scientist sailing on a scientific drilling expedition has a shipboard assignment, because we analyze and document material both for ourselves and for the scientific community. To sail on an expedition, you have to be invited by the program and selected by your own country/consortium's process, so it is both an honor and a responsibility. We each carry out specific scientific tasks and, in our individual specialties as well as collectively, carry out first-order interpretations and synthesis of the material collected. This will be published in an "expedition report." We walk off the ship with this almost entirely written.
Today's full day of science meetings about all of this started at 8:30 A.M. Tonight will be the first night of some nearly 60 in my cabin. I am saying to myself: "You've done it before, you can do it again." If you've sailed, write me to say, "Yes, you can, it will be fine." The new catering group seems to have done a great job overall, but toilet paper ran out near the end of the transit from Singapore, where the ship had been in the shipyard, to Honolulu, the port of departure for the first full expedition. And the food was good but bland, with only Tabasco as the hot sauce. Stay tuned.
Photo courtesy Peggy Delaney