Journey into the past

"Back in the old days”, a term most of us now utilize to describe the first part of our JR 341 journey, when we were all acclimatizing to the ship and things were a bit hazy in the wake of this adaptation, we questioned the scientists onboard about their work and lives at home.  We asked several of them what their favorite superhero power would be.  Several of them said flight (I watch the sea birds with envy as that would be my choice!) and most said tele-transportation.  

Movies are great transporters to other times and events.  We often watch movies on the JR to relax, entertain ourselves and to escape the routine of the day.

The movie lounge also doubles as a workout room and dance room when we have parties.   It’s in the lower part of the ship and you have to make a conscious decision to go down there-lots of stairs and no windows.  Not quite a den of iniquity or dungeon, more like a place to get away from it all.

We watched Shackleton the other night and I saw a few parallels with our voyage here.  What could those be you might ask, incredulously?  Not that we are risking life and limb on Expedition 341 but there are dangers; a winch cable could break, you could fall off the ship in wet conditions, and slip and crack your skull.  Doesn’t quite have the same impact as freezing to death in the Antarctic or being left on an island for eight months before uncertain rescue.  Not quite explorer tragedies, but risks all the same. 

Shackleton said, “I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out to the unknown.  The only true failure would be not to explore at all.”   I think that our purpose on this expedition has been in this vein- reaching out to the unknown and going back in the past to find out more about the future, with just as much enthusiasm and determination as Shackleton had!

We are on our fourth drilling site, U1420, which is on the continental shelf and was believed to be valuable in giving coastal information, which would link with the deeper sites we have drilled on.  Instead of kilometres of sediments we have come up mostly with rocks, and it’s been a tad disappointing.  This is "live" science however and the unexpected can happen.

For this journey sediments give us more information than rocks.  They contain microfossils and magnetite, which can be tested for it’s magnetic polarity, which both can be used as age indicators and can help the micropaleontologists and paleomagnetists to date the layers.   (The teaser photo shows the cryogenic magnetometer that is used on the JR to test polarity of the sediments.)  We are journeying into the past but need markers to help us find our way.  Without these the course is uncertain.

But we have to remind ourselves that science is about discovery not certainty.  We make attempts to prove a hypothesis but we don’t know if it will get us to our destination.   With one more site to go we are filled with enthusiasm for what will come next!

A beautiful radiolarian, microfossil, from another site.