This post was written by Halima Ibrahim, a graduate student at Binghamton University in the seminar Science Communication for Scientific Ocean Drilling (SciComm for SciOD), Spring 2023.
Throughout this course, I have had the privilege to explore and reflect on various concepts and ideas related to science communication. One of the key takeaways for me has been the vital role of effective communication in conveying scientific ideas and findings to a broader audience. Through this class, I have learned about the best practices in science communication and the various strategies and techniques that can be used to engage with diverse audiences.
The class discussions on the science communication book, “Getting to the heart of science communication: A guide to effective engagement” by Faith Kearns, were particularly fascinating. The author did an excellent job of sharing her career experiences and challenges as well as other science communicators in communicating science to the general public. The book also highlighted the need for scientists and researchers to be transparent and clear in their communication with both scientific and non-scientific communities. Our discussions over each chapter of the book were enriching, as they provided me with different perspectives and opinions from other people’s points of view.
I also appreciated the opportunity to listen to the five invited speakers who shared their research work, experiences, and how they communicate their science to a broad range of people, from the classroom to the general public. Most of the speakers had an extensive background in scientific ocean drilling, which is the area of my research interest. Some of them were involved in outreach programs to communicate science to non-experts as well as the younger generation, which was insightful to learn about their achievements. The peer review process was another aspect of the class that I enjoyed. Reviewing another person’s webpage and providing constructive feedback was fun, and it presented an opportunity to learn about other expeditions.
One of the reasons I took this class was to improve my science communication skills and contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge through creating web pages of past International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expeditions on the Time Scavengers website. These web pages will eventually be consumed by the Flyover Country app. It is fulfilling and humbling to know that someone may find the write-up that I produced in this class useful at some point in their life. The knowledge and skills I have gained from this class will enable me to effectively communicate scientific ideas in the future. I plan to apply these learnings to communicate scientific concepts and research findings more clearly and transparently to both scientific and non-scientific audiences. Furthermore, I intend to engage with different science communication strategies and seek feedback from various audiences to improve the effectiveness of my communication skills.
I appreciate Dr. Adriane Lam, our instructor, for doing an excellent job, especially as it was her first time teaching the class. From curating the course outline and choosing the book for the class to carefully selecting the invited speakers who had a wealth of knowledge to share with the class, she was amazing. I particularly liked the engaging and hands-on nature of the class. Dr. Lam is an excellent science communicator, which was evident in how she made in-class communication a two-way process by transmitting information to us students and receiving our feedback and opinions. The in-class exercises were helpful, and Dr. Lam was readily available to guide us and answer all our questions.
In conclusion, this class has been immensely valuable in enhancing my knowledge and understanding of science communication. I feel much more confident and better equipped to effectively communicate my research to people who do not have a scientific background. I have also come to appreciate the role science communication plays in shaping public opinion and understanding of complex scientific concepts such as climate change, oceanic drilling programs, and various scientific policies. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in science communication, be it to learn how to communicate their scientific knowledge to folks from different knowledge backgrounds or to venture into a science communication career.
The Strait of Gibraltar is a significant gateway that currently connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. From November 2011 to January 2012, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 339 science team drilled a total of seven sites, consisting of five sites in the Gulf of Cadiz (GC) and two sites off the West Iberian margin (Table 1 & Figure 1). The major objective of this drilling expedition was to study what happened when the Strait of Gibraltar opened about 5 million years ago, causing warm and salty water to flow into the North Atlantic Ocean. Scientists chose to drill in this region because it is an important spot to study the movement of Mediterranean Outflow Water (MOW) through the Strait of Gibraltar and how it affects the world’s ocean currents and weather patterns. It is also an area of interest for understanding the effects of tectonic activity on the evolution of the Strait of Gibraltar and how sediments collect around the continents. Climate plays a huge role in influencing the changes in the MOW and ocean currents over time. From about 6 million years ago, when the connections between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea in Spain and Morocco closed off, to 5.3 million years ago when the Strait of Gibraltar opened back up, the way the Earth’s tectonic plates moved had an even bigger impact on how sediment built up and how the ocean currents changed.
Some of the Expedition 339 crew members had the opportunity to watch the International Space Station (ISS) pass overhead on the night of Dec 4th, 2011, even though it appeared as a tiny moving dot in the sky. As reported by Helder Pereira, while drilling at Site U1386, the Joides Resolution (JR) research vessel was spotted by the ISS as it was orbiting the Earth! Interestingly, while they were watching, the ISS was also observing them and took a beautiful picture of the Iberian Peninsula. Can you spot the JR inside the orange circle located a few miles southeast of Faro (Algarve, Portugal) in the lower bottom right of Figure 3?
Expedition 339 had five broad scientific objectives, which are summarized below:
Understand the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar gateway and when the Mediterranean Outflow Water (MOW) began. Many scientists have different hypotheses on how the Strait of Gibraltar opened around 5 million years ago. Some believe it was due to tectonic changes, while others think it was caused by erosion of the land. The reopening ended the isolation of the Mediterranean Sea and the global effects of the Messinian Salinity Crisis (this was a time in which the Mediterranean Sea was isolated from the Atlantic Ocean, and drying up of the sea left behind major salt deposits and highly saline waters). It took some time for the deep MOW to flow out, and the exact timing of such outflow is relatively unknown. The first objective of Expedition 339 was to drill through sediment layers on the seafloor to determine the age of those sediments in the Gulf of Cádiz. Scientists also wanted to examine changes in contourite deposits, or sediment deposits that happen offshore, and MOW bottom water changes (temperature, salinity) during the geologic period from the end of the Miocene Period (~5 million years ago) to the early to middle Pliocene Period (~3 million years ago).
Determine the ancient circulation pattern of MOW and how such different circulation changes might affect global climate: Today, warm and salty (more than 300,000 tons of excess salt) water flows into the North Atlantic from the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar gateway every second! A density increase in North Atlantic Deep Water could affect the ocean’s thermohaline circulation (circulation of deep waters driven by density differences in those waters) and could have implications for climate change. To better understand these processes, researchers are actively studying the millennial to long-term changes of Mediterranean outflow and its effects on thermohaline circulation. The second objective was to date the unconformities (where there is missing time in the sedimentary record) and discontinuities identified on seismic records. Such identification can help to assess the sedimentary record’s link to past circulation variation and events and understand the forces driving bottom water circulation changes over different timescales.
Establish a marine reference section of Pleistocene (2.58–0.017 million years ago) climate (rapid climate change): This objective intersects with the principal objective of Site U1385 [APL-763] which was to drill into the Iberian margin, offshore Portugal to recover a sediment record that could be studied to infer Pleistocene climate changes. In turn, this sediment record can be correlated with polar ice cores and terrestrial sediments and other climate records to better understand climate change during the past ~2.58 million years.
Identify external controls on the sediments from the Gulf of Cádiz contourites and West Iberian margin: The fourth objective of this expedition was to study how sea level change and the size of the Strait of Gibraltar impacted sediment deposits in the Gulf of Cádiz and the West Iberian margin. This will help to distinguish between regional changes caused by climate and sea level, and to develop a better understanding of the sediments and under what conditions they were deposited in the area. The researchers plan to drill and analyze sediment cores, date them, and correlate them to create a pattern of the sediments and the hiatuses, or times of no sediment deposition, between them. They also want to evaluate how the Mediterranean Outflow Water flux and how global sea level changes affected the Gibraltar sill, as well as the circulation of the North Atlantic. By analyzing the composition of sediments and how fast they accumulated through time, scientists hope to better understand the sediment supply and flux for the sediment deposits in the gulf.
Investigate the tectonic activity in the region, and how it controlled the deposition of sediments in the region: This objective relates to using the sediments that were drilled to infer the age of tectonic events and the changes that resulted from this events in the Gulf of Cadiz and Iberian margin. The scientists also wanted to investigate diapirs, or the movement of low-density rocks such as salts, into older, more dense rocks.
The expedition successfully met all five of the scientific objectives, and recovered about 5447 meters (3.38 miles!) of cores. The region was drilled for the first time for scientific purposes and the results confirmed some pre-expedition hypotheses and also provided new information and ideas not initially anticipated. For instance, the scientists discovered a larger-than-anticipated petroleum system with huge hydrocarbon potential, presenting a new and significant opportunity to explore oil and gas reserves in the region!
Results from Expedition 339 opened the door for even more post-expedition research. Some studies focused on the reconstruction of the Mediterranean-Atlantic water exchange after the opening of the Gibraltar Strait 5.3 million years ago to understand the behavior of the Mediterranean Outflow Water during this period (Bahr et al., 2014) and to study the past ocean conditions (García-Gallardo et al., 2017). Studies published using the recovered sediments observed that MOW varied in strength and location during different historical periods, and that MOW resembles water from the Levantine Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean (Kaboth et al., 2016). A new detailed record from 416,000 years ago reveals that changes in MOW strength and depth during the Late Pleistocene age (~0.12–0.017 million years ago) were caused by the climate; the main factor controlling these changes being the rainfall pattern around the Mediterranean region (Nichols et al., 2020). Also, pollen and biomarker data from Site U1385 (Figure 1) was used to study the unique climate during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 13, a period around 533,000 to 478,000 years ago, when the climate was cool and humid, resulting in forest expansion in the Iberian Peninsula (Oliveira et al., 2022).
Bahr, A., Jiménez-Espejo, F.J., Kolasinac, N., Grunert, P., Hernández-Molina, F.J., Röhl, U., Voelker, A.H.L., Escutia, C., Stow, D.A.V., Hodell, D., and Alvarez-Zarikian, C.A., 2014. Deciphering bottom current velocity and paleoclimate signals from contourite deposits in the Gulf of Cádiz during the last 140 kyr: an inorganic geochemical approach. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 15(8):3145–3160. https://doi.org/10.1002/2014GC005356
García-Gallardo, Á., Grunert, P., Van der Schee, M., Sierro, F.J., Jiménez-Espejo, F.J., Alvarez Zarikian, C.A., and Piller, W.E., 2017. Benthic foraminifera-based reconstruction of the first Mediterranean-Atlantic exchange in the early Pliocene Gulf of Cadiz. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 472:93–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2017.02.009
Kaboth, S., Bahr, A., Reichart, G.-J., Jacobs, B., and Lourens, L.J., 2016. New insights into upper MOW variability over the last 150 kyr from IODP 339 Site U1386 in the Gulf of Cadiz. Marine Geology, 377:136–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.margeo.2015.08.014
Nichols, M.D., Xuan, C., Crowhurst, S., Hodell, D.A., Richter, C., Acton, G.D., and Wilson, P.A., 2020. Climate-induced variability in Mediterranean Outflow to the North Atlantic Ocean during the late Pleistocene. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 35(9):e2020PA003947. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020PA003947
Oliveira, D., Desprat, S., Yin, Q., Rodrigues, T., Naughton, F., Trigo, R.M., Su, Q., Grimalt, J.O., Alonso-Garcia, M., Voelker, A.H.L., Abrantes, F., and Sánchez Goñi, M.F., 2020. Combination of insolation and ice-sheet forcing drive enhanced humidity in northern subtropical regions during MIS 13. Quaternary Science Reviews, 247:106573. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106573
Expedition 374 took place from 4 January to 8 March 2018, during which five sites were drilled in the eastern Ross Sea of Antarctica, ranging from the outer continental shelf to the continental slope and rise (Fig. 1). Three sites (U1521, U1522, and U1523) were on the continental shelf, while U1524 and U1525 were from the continental rise and slope, respectively (Fig. 1).
The study of western Antarctica and the Ross Sea region is crucial because computer models have shown this area is highly sensitive to changes in ocean temperature and sea level. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contains a vast amount of ice, and its complete melting could result in a 4.3 meter rise in global sea level (Patterson et al., 2012). Therefore, by understanding how the ice sheet in this region has changed in the past, researchers can predict how it may change in the future under different climate conditions, which can better prepare societies for the inevitable future (McKay et al., 2019).
The primary objective of Expedition 374 was to comprehend how the evolution of the WAIS during the Neogene (23–2.58 million years ago) and Quaternary (2.58 million years ago to Recent) geologic periods relates to changes in climate and oceanic conditions. Scientists wanted to determine the contribution of West Antarctica to overall ice volume and sea level rise, comprehend past polar temperature changes and causes of such changes in temperatures, understand the effect of changes in ocean temperature and sea level on the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, determine how the Earth’s position in its orbit influences the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet under different climate conditions, and analyze the relationship between seafloor geometry in the eastern Ross Sea and the stability of the ice sheet and global climate.
Despite challenges such as drifting sea ice and mechanical vessel failure during drilling at Site U1524, the team managed to retrieve significant recoveries. Although about 39% of operational days at sea were lost, making it challenging to achieve all the proposed goals of Expedition 374. Regardless, the recovered samples can still be effectively compared with those from other sites, such as U1522, U1525, and sites from similar projects like the Antarctic Geological Drilling Project (ANDRILL). The goal is to create a continental shelf to rise transect of the Pliocene (5.33–2.58 million years ago) to the Pleistocene (2.58–0.017 million years ago) periods, which is an essential component of the expedition’s overall objectives.
During Expedition 374, 1292.70 meters of cores were recovered from five drill sites spanning the early Miocene (~15 million years ago) to late Quaternary (Recent). The sediments in the Ross Sea near Antarctica were studied by several scientists to gain insights into the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). A study by King et al., (2022) focused on how ice and ocean currents interacted during past ice ages (about 2.4 million years ago) to estimate the future extent of the ice sheets and help improve future models of the ice sheet. The study also fostered an understanding of how the ice sheet formed and grew under different oceanographic conditions. Also, findings from Expedition 374 inspired a new WAIS drilling project that will predict how the ice sheet will respond to future global warming scenarios, including how melting of the ice could contribute to sea-level rise, based on how the ice sheet responded to warming scenarios in the geologic past (Patterson et al., 2012).
In 2022, a study by Lelieveld analyzed sediments from Expedition 374 to investigate how the Antarctic Ice Sheets impacted sea level variations and vegetation changes during the Miocene Period (23–5.33 million years ago) in the Ross Sea. The Miocene Period is a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were much higher than today, and reached levels projected for the coming decades. As such, the Miocene Period is a good geologic analogue for how Earth systems behave and change under increased greenhouse gasses and increased warming. The study found that despite the climate being conducive to higher-order plants, the region’s vegetation was dominated by shrubs and tundra due to the reduced land available for plant growth caused by erosion resulting from glacial advances of the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets. Another study presented geological evidence of large WAIS expansions from sediment samples obtained during Expedition 374 (Marschalek et al., 2021). The findings from Marschalek et al. (2021) supported the hypothesis that during the intensely warm Miocene Period , East Antarctica experienced significant ice loss, which contradicted the view of other scientists who suggested that the ice in East Antarctica mostly remained intact during this period of time.
Expedition 374 also contributed to providing valuable information on the history of a volcano! A study by Di Roberto et al., (2021) examined a layer of volcanic ash, known as tephra, found in marine sediments in Antarctica’s Ross Sea (Figure 2). The tephra was estimated to be around 1.3 million years old and matched a deposit discovered at Chang Peak volcano, located 1,300 km away from the study site. This discovery adds a new reference point for dating and correlating early Pleistocene records in West Antarctica.
Di Roberto, A., Scateni, B., Di Vincenzo, G., Petrelli, M., Fisauli, G., Barker, S.J., Del Carlo, P., Colleoni, F., Kulhanek, D.K., McKay, R., De Santis, L., and the IODP Expedition 374 Scientific Party, 2021. Tephrochronology and provenance of an early Pleistocene (Calabrian) tephra from IODP Expedition 374 Site U1524, Ross Sea (Antarctica). Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 22(8):e2021GC009739. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GC009739
King, M.V., Gales, J.A., Laberg, J.S., McKay, R.M., De Santis, L., Kulhanek, D.K., Hosegood, P.J., and Morris, A., 2022. Pleistocene depositional environments and links to cryosphere-ocean interactions on the eastern Ross Sea continental slope, Antarctica (IODP Hole U1525A). Marine Geology, 443:106674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.margeo.2021.106674