Curatorial Specialist: Keeper of the Cores

My name is Jerry and I am sailing this cruise as Curatorial Specialist. The basic responsibility of my position is to maintain the scientific integrity of the cores recovered during the expedition while at the same time assuring the scientists, both on board and on shore, get the proper samples for their studies. This is a long process and requires the involvement of many people besides the requester.

When scientists submit their electronic request they state which “project”, that is which cruise, the request is for and it is given a request number so we can better track it. A scientist may submit more than one request and they are all treated individually on their own merits. The scientists may be sailing on the particular cruise or they could be shore-based and just have a scientific interest in the area of interest or the scientific objectives of the cruise.
Once on the ship I print out 2 copies of each request and put them in individual notebooks, one is for my use and one is for the Core Lab where it is available to the entire scientific staff. This cruise we are fortunate in that we have a week of sailing to get to the first site so we have the luxury of working out the details of the requests without the severe time constraints normally found on most cruises. I then work with the Co-Chief Scientists and the Staff Scientist who work out conflicts among the requests and we come up with a sampling plan that will get the scientists their approved samples.
This cruise it is somewhat more complex as we have a group of microbiologists who are wanting special samples so they can study the organisms that are living in the sediments. Fortunately for me, they will hash out the sampling plan they need and we review it to make sure it will help us achieve the goals of the cruise. Another complication is that most of the sampling will take place in Japan some time after the end of the cruise as they are wanting to do high resolution studies (small time intervals) and we can’t work up a suitable post cruise sampling plan to make the most effective use of the cores until we know just what we have. To get this information the scientists will be able to take a limited number of samples so they can be quickly analyzed after the cruise which will give them a better idea of what they have. Once it is determined which survey samples are needed, I will work to incorporate them into the cruise’s sampling plan.
During the drilling operations I also oversee the handling of the cores to insure their integrity. To say that I oversee the operations is somewhat of a stretch as the technicians who work the Catwalk, or core receiving area, are quite experienced and know as much as I, if not more, about core handling. But I am the one who must make any decisions should there be any questions concerning the handling of the core.
Once the core is processed (that is cut into sections and labeled) this information is entered into the computer and then put through the “whole round” testing. Once the whole round testing is completed, the sections are split with the “working” half put on the sampling table and the “archive” half put on the Archive table where it is prepped for imaging and measured for color, then described.
But it is with the working half that I give most of my attention as it is the half that is sampled for scientists, both on the ship and on shore. I will have written the sampling plan on a white board next to the sampling table for the scientists, who do most of the sampling, and then show the scientists how to follow it. On some cruises we may take more than a hundred samples for a core, but, as I mentioned, on this cruise this won't be the case and we may only be taking about 30 per core.
In closing I should note that all through the cruise I meet the new cores with the Core Lab technicians giving them assistance as they need it and, conversely, they help me when I need it. The lines of responsibility tend to blur as, out here, it is not just doing your job, it is doing what is necessary to achieve the scientific goals of the cruise, and to achieve them efficiently and safely. This may mean role reversal between myself and the techs. But this doesn’t lessen my responsibilities as the Curatorial Specialist, I am still responsible for all things curatorial. It’s just the route I take to fulfill my responsibilities may not be the same as the route when on shore.
Unfortunately for me, once the cruise ends and I leave the ship, my responsibilities end and it is up to the Co-Chief Scientists and the Staff Scientist to work out a sampling plan to follow at the sampling party and I miss the sampling party itself.


Hi Jerry!

I really enjoyed meeting you on Exp. 321T, and have told many people (incl. my parents) about the excellent hat you got in Seattle (dog years...). I also like your description of the curatorial responsibilities--it is sobering to think that often many people want samples of the core, and that you have to think of a way to accommodate as many of their requests as possible. I'm imagining a working split core that is comprised entirely of styrofoam fillers, with no actually sediment left--it's rather funny.

Hope to see you again,
Elizabeth Abernathy

Another neat perspective

I'm not sure why, but it had not occurred to me that shore based labs would be interested in studying these same cores. With such a large scientific staff on the boat I guess I just figured it would all get done on the boat and the data analyzed later.

What's a sampling party and why don't you get to go?


Scientists and sampling party

Thanks Melanie for your comments. About the number of scientists on board, while it may seem we have many scientists on board, it sometimes requires more scientists than there are berths. Also, some scientists have other obligations such as teaching and/or other research projects that prevent their sailing. Because their expertise is believed to be important in achieving the goals of the cruise (each cruise has a set of scientific objectives they wish to meet) they are given samples appropriate for their specialty. These scientists can be anywhere in the world.

As for the “sampling party”, when a the objectives of a cruise require high resolution sampling (small time segments) it is often better to wait till you see what you have in the way of recovery before taking any samples. Thus, like this cruise, besides the normal shipboard samples which are either used to characterize the recovery or whose properties are ephemeral (i.e. gas, interstitial water and microbiology this cruise), there will be a limited amount of personal sampling. These samples will be quickly studied by the individual scientists and the results sent to the Co-Chief Scientists. From what was observed on the ship and the data furnished by the participating scientists the Co-Chiefs will formulate a sampling plan for each of the cruise’s approved requests to maximize the use of the limited material and to eliminate any overlapping studies.

Then, at a predetermined time, usually a week, a “sampling party” is scheduled. This party is scheduled before the end of the cruise and is used to give the individual scientists an idea as to how much time they have. The party is a party in name only, however, as during this week many thousands of samples, perhaps more than 20,000, need to be taken. It is an intense time as not only do they have a lot of samples to take, the samples must be taken in such a sequence that the taking of one set of samples doesn’t interfere with other samples that must also be taken in the same intervals. It needs to be a well choreographed as sampling is taking places at 3 or 4 different tables in order to get all the samples during the week the sampling party lasts. I don't get to go as I am actually retired and am just helping out the IODP when they were short of staff. When the cruise ends, I head back home in California. Must say it is nice to be back on the ship. I didn't know how much I missed it until I got back out here. The scientists are great and the techs are superb.

I hope this answers your questions or that it was not too much info.


Great overview!

This is great stuff, Jerry! Thanks so much for sharing!


What Jerry didn't mention, was that I share his office for Expedition 323. He has been kind and accomodating to me, since I am a newb to all of this, and he has sailed many times! Thanks Jerry for the post.