A New Year’s Resolution

By Matthew Wood 01/02/2010

While I was still busy sunning myself on Coromandel beaches during the first few days of 2010, the research vessel JOIDES Resolution was approaching Wellington Harbour after a record-setting drilling leg off the Canterbury coast.

The Resolution’s sole purpose is to carry out the research objectives of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), the world’s largest multinational geoscience initiative. New Zealand became an official member of the IODP in 2009 under the Australia and New Zealand IODP Consortium (ANZIC), allowing our science community to make use of the program’s world-class drilling ships and platforms.

At 1928 m, the IODP record-breaking core drilled off Canterbury effectively represents the upper limit of this ship’s capabilities — an impressive feat, especially considering that the Resolution can theoretically drill and retrieve such cores in water depths of up to 7 km.

The goal of the IODP is to investigate the Earth system throughout the geological past by collecting sedimentary records captured in the world’s ocean basins. Richard Levy, a paleoclimate scientist at GNS Science, suggests that its major success so far has been in producing a 65 million year global climate record of ice volume, sea level, temperature and CO2 levels, going back far beyond the temporal limit of ice cores.

The educational holiday programme, Discover Ancient Worlds Beneath the Ocean Floor, was run by GNS Science in association with Capital E!, taking advantage of having the JOIDES Resolution in port. Dr. Levy and Julian Thomson, who coordinates education outreach at GNS, put together a week-long course with an over-arching theme of paleoclimate earth science. The participants, aged between 12 and 15, were given a full tour of the drilling ship, stepped inside a -37 degree ice core facility in the Hutt Valley, learned about ice sheets and sealevel rise and handled South Island rocks documenting the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary.

Participants sampling their sediment core

After collecting their own core from the seafloor off the end of Petone Wharf (where Richard’s waterproof watch is currently ticking away, being slowly buried by sediment), these kids experienced the visual feast of examining microfossils under the binocular microscope while learning about the power of these organic remains as proxies for environmental change, as tools for relative and absolute dating, and as indicators of evolution through extinction and speciation.

The JOIDES Resolution may now be busy collecting new sedimentary stories off the Wilkes Land coast of Antarctica, but thanks to an exciting holiday programme, and the talented team behind it, none of these promising young geoscientists have missed the boat.

Photo (c) Julian Thomson 2010

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