Preparing for a scientific ocean drilling expedition

Adriane here –

The drill ship Joides Resolution, which will be my home for two months July-September 2017!

On July 28th, I will board the scientific drilling ship, R/V Joides Resolution, to spend 2 months in the Tasman Sea! This expedition, through the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) will recover sediment from the seafloor between Australia and New Zealand to learn more about the plate tectonics behaved in the geologic past and the climate and ocean history of the Tasman Sea. A group of scientists were chosen to participate on this expedition, all have a very specific job to do while at sea. My job is to look at the tiny fossils, planktic foraminifera (also called ‘forams’) recovered from the sediment, identify them, and tell everyone else how old the sediment is. This technique of using fossils to tell time is called biostratigraphy. Thus, I am sailing as one of four planktic foraminferal biostratigraphers on the ship.

Preparing for an expedition like this is no small task. In fact, it’s downright terrifying! I will be working for 2 months straight on 12 hour shifts, and will be around some of the best scientists of my time. I am certain I will learn a ton of new information, but it can be intimidating knowing you will, as a student, be working with such great scientists.

So, how does one prepare for an expedition of this magnitude? First and foremost, I am staying positive and reminding myself that this is a remarkable experience! Second, I have been reading scientific papers where the research focuses on microfossils from the Tasman Sea, and putting these important papers on an external hard drive to take with me on the ship. Third, my lab and I made a ‘Biostrat Book’, where I combined three different zonation schemes, or ways to tell time using planktic foraminifera, for use on the ship. This document also contains tons of pictures of important foram species that we use to estimate time.

A page from the biostratigraphy document I put together for use on my expedition. On the left is time in millions of years, from 20-35. The black and white bars indicate magnetostratigraphy, and the Period/Epoch indicates the geologic time (black for global, blue for New Zealand ages). There are three zonation schemes (or zones) here: the one from Wade et al. (2011), another from Jenkins (1993), and the last from Huber and Quillevere (2005). Genus and species names are italicized and match the color of the zones they correspond to. The number beside the genus and species names corresponds to age on the left.

I also visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Cushman Collection, which is a collection of foraminifera holotypes and paratypes. I did this so I could begin learning to identify all the species of planktic forams that I will encounter during my time at sea.

Sorting slides full of planktic forams in the lab!

But it turns out the best place to look at and learn different species of forams was right here, in the lab of my advisor! My advisor, Mark, has collected sediment samples from all over the world, and has amassed quite the collection of planktic forams. So as part of my training, I sorted all of our samples first by species, then by age. This collection will serve as references for me to practice identifying all the foram species!

And finally, the last way I’m preparing for this expedition is by relying on the support and positivity from my peers and lab mates, both previous and current members (I lovingly call them my paleo brothers and sisters). Several of my advisor’s former students have sailed aboard the Joides Resolution, so their advice and support has been invaluable to me!

Stay tuned for more updates from my time in Australia and aboard the Joides Resolution!

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