Drilling thousands of meters into the ocean to sample and study deep ocean crust millions of years old, the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) today embarks on a two-part scientific drilling project expeditions in the South Atlantic Ocean, with a Texas A&M University Scientist leading each expedition.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supported by 22 nations, IODP is a multi-decade research program that explores the Earth’s history, ecology, and structure recorded in sediments and rocks beneath the oceans. These South Atlantic transect IODP expeditions will sail on the JOIDES Resolution, a leading scientific research vessel for deep-sea drilling, owned by Siem Offshore Overseas Drilling Ltd subsidiary. For the past 37 years, Texas A&M has operated the JOIDES Resolution on behalf of NSF.
Embarking on April 12 from Cape Town, Jason Sylvan, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of Department in the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M, and Rosalind M. Coggon, of the University of Southampton, UK, will serve as co-Chief Scientists of IODP Expedition 390. until June 7.
“It’s amazing to finally see it happen after all the groundwork, pandemic-related delays and staff reshuffling,” Sylvan said. “But here we are, sailing with scientists around the world and asking exciting questions about how Earth’s environment has changed over the past 61 million years.”
Next, IODP Expedition 393 will sail from June 7 to August 7 with Julia Reece, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Texas A&M, and Damon AH Teagle from the University of Southampton, UK, as co-lead scientists.
“Both expeditions are critical to our understanding of the interconnected Earth system, such as the relationships between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere,” Reece said. “Drilling in this very systematic way along a transect perpendicular to the axis of the mid-ocean ridge allows us to study how the oceanic crust and everything around it changes as it cools, sinks and ages over millions of years. By studying these sediments and igneous rocks that record environmental conditions and rapid climate change in the past, we will be able to better predict the future of our planet, including how underwater life, patterns of ocean circulation, climate, etc. may react to other anthropogenic influences. ”
Expeditions 390 and 393, together referred to as the “South Atlantic Transect”, will recover deep geological core samples from six drill sites along the western flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, in water depths ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 meters and with oceanic crust up to 61 million years old. The crust at these sites was gradually transported westward due to seafloor spreading from the mid-ocean ridge. These sites will fill critical gaps in the sampling of oceanic crust with respect to crustal age, rate of propagation, and hydrothermal and geochemical processes.
“It is exhilarating to follow in the path of scientific pioneers in ocean drilling who explored the South Atlantic more than 50 years ago to prove that the sea floor extending along mid-ocean ridges is producing new ocean crust” , Coggon said. “This crust forms the basins that contain the oceans – but it is not simply an inert container for seawater. Our drilling strategy along a crustal age transect was designed to study how the seawater and the rocks that hold it interact – contribute to and record changes in the long-term evolution of our planet and allow life to thrive deep below the seafloor.
Carrying 52 international scientists, these two expeditions will recover sedimentary records of climate change and ocean circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean, study the history of hydrothermal interactions between the cooling of the oceanic crust and the ocean, and the microbial communities that live deep below the seafloor.
Sediment cores spanning both space and time will allow scientists to study the responses of circulation patterns of the Atlantic Ocean and Earth’s climate system to rapid environmental change, including over past intervals high atmospheric CO2.
In addition to serving as the scientific operator of the JOIDES resolution, Texas A&M is also home to one of three major IODP ocean sediment core repositories.
Learn more about the IODP and follow the expeditions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.