The wildlife highlight of the last days was the sighting of my first penguin (see picture).
I had seen penguins before, sitting on icebergs in the distance, but with cheap cameras (like mine) these penguins only show up as black dots on a white berg. This penguin however was different. He was swimming very close by the ship, and thanks to an announcement of the captain, everybody who was awake got a chance to run outside and see it. The little guy was swimming up and down the side the ship, giving us a proper show – very cute!
Lonely penguin. Photo credit: Ursula Röhl.
Scientifically we are making great progress. We are still on our first site, drilling deeper and deeper into the ocean floor. We passed today the depth of 700 meter below the seafloor. Our target for this drill site is to get all the way down to the Eocene-Oligocene boundary, which happened some 33 million years ago. This was when ice first covered the entire Antarctic continent. Before than there was a so-called greenhouse world with lots of vegetation on the continent and very warm temperatures in the ocean around Antarctica. If we are lucky we may see this transition tomorrow in >800 m below the seafloor.
But since nobody has drilled that deep in this location we just won’t know until we get there. Things are going very well and we have been recovering some amazing core material. Everybody is very excited and in a good mood.
The first hole we tried to drill off Antarctica did not like us too much and we had to abandon it. After collecting the pipes going down from the ship to about 3700m water depths, we moved to another Site not too far away, but in a different depositional environment. We tripped the pipes again (to about 3900m; see video for one piece of pipe going down), and got our first core on deck at 2 am tonight. It seems that conditions at this new location are much more favorable for successful drilling, and we are making fast progress down the hole! The routine operation is now rolling and the ship’s crew is just amazing in doing all the hard work for us.
When a core comes on deck, it is cut by the IODP technician in pieces (sections). Each of these pieces is sealed with end caps, labeled carefully, and carried inside the ship. After a four hour period of equilibration (waiting) the core is taken through the various machines to measure its physical properties, and cut in two halves. One of these halves (the archive half) is used to describe the material; a job done by the sedimentologists. The other half (working half) is then subjected to sampling for palaeomagnetics, palaeontology, and geochemistry. Everybody from the science team has to help for two hours per day to do the sampling for everybody else. It is a fun moment when all the different groups of scientists are gathered around the sampling table and decide where to take the samples for the shipboard analyses we want to carry out. Palaeomagnetics and palaeontology will tell us about the age of the sediment and geochemistry and sedimentology will give us a first idea on the composition of the material, how it was deposited, and where it was coming from.
After the sampling is completed, the core is packed up and stored away. We will only see it again at our post-cruise sampling party. This is a meeting, which takes place typically a few months after the end of the cruise at one of the three IODP core repository in the US, Germany or Japan. All scientists meet again to take personal samples for individual research projects. Sometimes this sampling already happens on the ship, but in our case we will postpone it to a later point. The material we are recovering from off Antarctica is very precious, and we want to carefully think about our subsamples, before taking them.
The most used quote on the ship: ‘We are currently drilling where no drill bit has gone before.’ Exciting times …
When I got up yesterday morning the labs were emptied out – everybody seemed to be outside. Soon I learned that we were passing by some quite spectacular icebergs. In the photo you can see just one of those bergs. According to our ice specialist Diego Mello we saw bergs of every possible shape, and the excitement hold up for most of the day. If you check out other blogs on the expedition (www.joidesresolution.org) you will see more bergs. The sea has been very calm over the last few days, but the fog prevented more spectacular pictures. Unfortunately the massive presence of icebergs around our first targeted drill site (‘bergy water’ is the term Diego uses) forced the captain to make the decision that drilling on the shelf was not feasible at this point. So the ship turned around and we started heading towards another drill site, more distal from the ice margin, where we arrived this morning. The crew is working very hard to get all ready for drilling and if things go well we should have the first core on deck tonight!
Talking about icebergs is a good starting point to fold in some exciting science we are going to do out here. Icebergs are pretty picture objects, especially when they are all white and shiny. The bergs that I am interested in however are ‘dirty’ icebergs. They carry ice-rafted debris (IRD), picked up from the continents where the icebergs break off the ice shield or outlet glaciers (see schematic drawing).
Most of the Antarctic continent, an area larger than 50 x the UK, is covered by ice. This ice is divided in two distinct units: the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) covering most of the continent, and the roughly eight times smaller West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Both ice sheets are separated by the Transantarctic Mountains. Together a water mass is locked up on Antarctica that if melted would be equivalent to a sea level rise of ~60 m. From the study of marine sediments we know that today’s situation on Antarctica with ice cover all over the continent is just a snapshot in the geological history, which has been characterized by the transition from an ice-free “Greenhouse world” more than 40 million years ago, to the present “Icehouse world” with ice caps on both poles. While there is clear signs for present day melting of the WAIS, the EAIS may stay stable for a bit longer. If future temperatures however rise more than a few degrees centigrade from now, there is potential for the large EAIS to become unstable as well. We can study the behavior of this large ice sheet under warming conditions by looking into the record of the past. The most powerful way to do so is to study sediments deposited at the bottom of the ocean –exactly what we try to drill during IODP expedition 318 to Wilkes Land.
I am particularly interested in the record of Ice-Rafted Debris (IRD) around East Antarctica. Studying the layers of past IRD opens a window to explore which parts of the East Antarctic ice margin became unstable under certain environmental conditions. This can be done by matching the chemical signature of IRD from drilled sediment cores with known Antarctic geology. This work is done in collaboration with a team of researchers from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Imperial College London. If you want to know more, a paper about the topic is going to come out in the next few weeks in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
One of the participants in our endeavor to explore the climate history of Antarctica is the videographer Dan Brinkhuis (Zcene Moving Media Company). He has probably been one of the most busy people during our first week of transit, as he is constantly running around with his camera trying to capture all the different activities on the ship.
Today his first weekly report from the JOIDES Resolution came out featuring a portray of IODP expedition project manager Adam Klaus. Dan will produce reports like this for every week of our expedition, featuring different people on the ship and their roles in this expedition.
This morning at 9:20 am we past 60°S. We have been making very good progress on our transit and detailed planning for the first drill site on the shelf has began. We hope to arrive at site on Monday. This morning at 4 am the first iceberg was sighted. Unfortunately I was asleep, but there will be more to come…
IODP expedition 318 chemistry/microbiology team
By now everybody on the ship is eager to get started – a week of transit is a long time although we have been busy setting up the labs, working out our sampling strategies, and attending science talks. It is quite fascinating to see how diverse the background of all the scientists is. Focusing all these minds on one single science objective is what makes IODP expeditions quite unique. We are all part of a big ‘machinery’ that will guarantee that by the time we leave the ship there is a full science report and data documentation for every singly bit of core we will have drilled during this expedition. This of course also means that everybody has a designated position on board. There are two co-chief scientists, one expedition project manager (IODP staff scientist), ten sedimentologists, four paleontologists (expertise in diatoms, radiolaria, foraminifera), four experts in physical properties of sediments, three geochemists, two logging scientists, two paleomagnetists, two palynologists, and one microbiologists (on top of that there is 27 IODP staff who help us accomplish our science on board, 52 Transocean crew members to operate the ship and 15 catering crew members).
I am sailing as an inorganic geochemist, and my job will be to analyse and interpret interstitial waters we will squeeze out of the sediment, as well as looking at the geochemistry of sediment samples. My shift for the rest of the expedition will be from noon to midnight, and my colleague Francisco Jimenez-Espejo (Spain/Japan) will do the same job while I am asleep. Our geochemistry/microbiology team is completed by James Bendle (Organic Geochemistry, UK) and Stephanie Carr (Microbiology, US). Below you can see a picture of our floating laboratory geochemistry team, including the two IODP chemistry laboratory technicians (Chieh Peng and David Houpt). The analytical capabilities we have out here in our floating laboratory are really amazing – there are thirteen (13!) analytical instruments in our lab including gas chromatographs (GC), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES), and x-ray diffraction (XRD). The analyses we can make in the chemistry laboratory range from water chemistry over sediment and rock geochemistry to organic chemistry. The main reason however why the geochemistry lab must be staffed 24/7 is that we routinely do gas safety monitoring for the drilling operations.
A cool little detail is that we have balances in the lab which are specifically designed to make precise measurements on a moving ship. Two of them can carry out measurements down to 10 microgram precision (and wobble around all the time) and the other six are operated in pairs of two to yield weight differences with a precision of about 10 milligram (second video – explained by David Houpt).
After we left the ‘roaring fourties’ behind, we are currently making slow progress in the ‘screaming fifties’ to avoid the worst of a low pressure system to the south of us. Although the video looks quite nice, the waves are actually very high and the boat rolls around significantly (up to 60 knots winds and swells of 20 ft).
We are now three days into our transit down to Antarctica. The highlight of the second day was the obligatory boat drill. After we had a briefing from the captain on the first day, we used this drill to identify the location of our life boats and escape routes. We all had to come equipped with our life vests and hard heads, and had to then try on our survival suites. These gumby suites are water proof and float in water – they may safe our lives for a considerable amount of time if we ever have to abandon the ship. The exercise of trying them on however is one of the most entertaining bits on research expeditions. They are very awkward to put on and even harder to get off. In the picture you can see one of my colleagues in his suite. I am sure that a video of the event will follow soon. ..
In the late hours of Sunday we started hitting rougher seas. I personally love lying down in my bunk bed and being rocked into sleep by the movement of the ship! However some of my colleagues had a hard time on Monday, and the doctor on the ship was busy with giving out medication against sea-sickness. We are currently in the 40s (latitudes south of 40°S), and the conditions will probably get worth tomorrow while heading further south.
We are still spending most of our time with learning the specifics of our jobs here at sea. Each individual scientist on this cruise has their own scientific goals, but as a team we will work to accomplish the overall scientific objectives of the expedition (http://publications.iodp.org/scientific_prospectus/318/index.html). This involves a lot of hands on steps. While the actual drilling is done by the experienced ship’s crew, the opening and first sampling of the core is done by ship technicians with the help of scientists. After careful labeling the individual sections of recovered drill core are brought inside the ship and split into a working half and an archive half. The archive half is processed through a digital imaging system and then carefully described by the sedimentologists (i.e., how much mud there is, how much sand there is, whether we find dropstones from icebergs, etc). Palaeontologists at the same time look at the various microorganisms found in the cores and palaeomagnetists measure the magnetic properties. Parts of the newly recovered core are also subject to destructive analyses, which we do right here out at sea. Our ship is a big floating laboratory, but I will write more about this aspect when we have retrieved the first drill core.
Below (on special request) a little video of the ‘rolling ocean’. I will upload another video when it gets rougher so that you can get an impression of what it is like out at sea on the JOIDES Resolution!
Today at 10:30am we left port. All scientist and many of the technicians and the ship’s crew were on top of the bridge to watch the departure. It was a sunny day, and two little boats towed us until we were far enough away from land that the ship could be turned to face the open sea.
We left Aotea Quay,Wellington, under blue sky. For the next couple of days we will be sailing along the eastside of New Zealand. Since weather and ice observations will be key to our expedition (some of the sites we want to drill are still covered by seaice), we have two experts on board, Kjell and Diego, who watch out for weather and ice conditions at any time and inform the ship’s crew and the scientists.
This means that we all know that we will probably hit some heavy seas tomorrow with winds up to 40 kt. I started taking a small dose of sea-sickness medication, as I want to be prepared for when the ship starts rolling. It is a wonderful feeling to be underway!
The transit to our first drill site on the continental shelf off Wilkes Land will be about 8 days. We are supposed to arrive there on 17 January. Of course we hope that until then the ice conditions are even further retreated. So far everything looks great …We will spend the rest of today with science meetings discussing our research and sampling strategies.
Co-chief scientists Carlota Escutia and Henk Brinkhuis