Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sailing on the JOIDES Resolution and Pondering Climate Change

The JOIDES Resolution approaching Victoria, BC

I'm on board the JOIDES Resolution (the JR) and set to head out to sea tomorrow afternoon. I'll be blogging about it regularly on The JR's blog and occasionally here too.

What is The JR and why should we care?

Well, to answer the first question well, you should spend some time poking around on The JR's website, but I'll say briefly that it's one of the most famous geologic ships that there is. JOIDES stands for Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling, and it takes the name Resolution from James Cook's ship of more than 200 years ago. It's also a converted oil drilling ship that now drills for samples of ocean core sediments rather than for oil. It's also a pretty big ship. Look at the picture -- the row of windows across the front of the ship should give you a sense of scale of something familiar. The derrick stands 62 meters (about 20 stories tall) and she's 143 meters long (about one and a half football fields).

More amazing than its proportions (and partly because of them) is the fact that The JR can reach from its derrick to the sea floor and not only drill deeply into the sea floor, but also recover cores from the sea floor, and place instrument packages into the hole left behind. Take a virtual tour here.
Handling a core on The JR's previous voyage.

We won't be coring on this trip. We'll be placing an instrument package called a CORK in an existing hole. More on that later (as I learn more about it).

Ok, so why would we want to do that stuff?
We can use what we find in these sediments to reconstruct the story of how the Earth came to be the way that it is -- in many different ways. The fossils (commonly microscopic) that we find in cores give us hints about what ancient climates were like. Studying methane hydrates found in sea floor sediments can help us understand their role in climate change.

A chunk of methane hydrate looks like ice -- but you can light it on fire.

Pondering them raises a question for me to explore in the coming days with the scientists on board. What, if anything, do the methane hydrates found under the sea have to do with methane bearing shale, like the Marcellus? I also want to deepen my understand of how they fit into understandings of climate change.

If there's more you want me to be pondering (with the help of some scientists who are some of the world's experts in these areas), please let me know. You can do that by posting here, or by sending me an email at my temporary ship's email address (and I only have limited access to my regular email). That address is:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely written, Don! I'm so glad you chose to apply to that program. I'd like to see more of our colleagues from the list in that program.

Happy sailing! Say hi to Steve H., Jen C., and Leslie P. (is she's there) for me!

Heather Renyck