January 18, 2010

Bearing Down on Wilkes Land


It’s been more than a week since we have New Zealand, and now we’re a day away from reaching our first drilling site.

Life onboard has been filled with getting up to speed on the schedule of the ship, learning how we will collect our data and how we’ll write up our results.  My days begin when the buzzer goes off in my bunk. The room is small for one person, cramped for two.  The two of us share a bathroom with the next cabin, but have a sink in our room.  I am in the upper Tween deck, which is one deck below the main deck.  Stairs between the decks are steeper than typical ones on land.  There are different types of doors; some that are watertight and other more normal looking ones.  Through the corridors and up one flight is the galley, a relatively spacious place with all the conveniences of a modern cafeteria: an ice cream machine, dessert display, soda machines, salad bar.  A staff that heaps lots of food on a plate for you and tables for about 50 people. But all the fresh salads and fruit will slowly disappear in the coming weeks.

Above the galley are the conference room and the chemistry labs.  I am located in the paleo lab, which shares a floor with sedimentology labs, physical properties and the down hole loggers. Right now everyone is waiting around, preparing and anxious about getting the first core on deck.

We have one shot at getting this right and we want to maximize every opportunity to move science forward. At many ocean drilling sites, more than one core is taken so we have overlaps where recovery is not 100%.  But because of time constraints and the difficult nature of taking the sediments, we will be able to drill only once at each site.  This makes the cores extremely valuable, and so the co chiefs—Henk Brinkhuis of the Netherlands and Carlota Escutia from Spain—have decided to limit the data. We will take only samples needed for ephemeral studies (those that degrade immediately after the core is brought up to the surface) and other critically needed data (such as studies for telling how old the sediments are). I think it’s a great way to minimize wasting time and resources on samples that may end up not being useful.  These discussions and other ones at meetings drive home the point of how precious and important these cores and this expedition are for understanding climate change of the past.