Should We Stay or Should We Go?

This week we had to make a few major decisions on the fly. It just reflects the dynamic nature of science.  Our Co-Chief described our actions as a “Hail Mary Pass” to drill one more hole to achieve two of our science objectives. We needed to decide if the JR would stay and drill one more hole to look for gas hydrates and bring up few more cores to fill in a critical missed section of the E-O boundary . It was a true gamble. There is no history of gas hydrates in the area, but the latest cores showed every indication that they would be present. The cost was high, use up a whole day of drilling and potentially find nothing.

 

The section on the far right showed evidence of gas hydrates

When the new cores came on deck there was abuzz on the catwalk reminiscent of the first core of the expedition. Nearly the entire science party was waiting to see what would happen. A thermal imager was used to check the temperature throughout the core. The presence of frozen gas hydrates would make the temperature in the core decrease dramatically. Co-Chief Richard Norris was also ready with a lighter to check for methane gas!

Our Co-Chief using a lighter to check for methane gas from melting gas hydrates

A few geochemists stayed through the end of their shift and into the night as we worked to take pore water samples. Pore water is the liquid between the grains of sediment within the core. First we used a power drill to make a tiny hole in the plastic core liner. Then a knitting needle is inserted to make a track for the small tube from a syringe to pass through. Finally the syringe is used to suction out the pore water. Some samples only took thirty minutes to fill the entire syringe, while others took hours!

 

The syringes collecting the pore water from the newest cores

Ultimately there was no evidence of gas hydrates, and we were not able to fill in the missed section of the E-O boundary. However, the excitement, the late night teamwork, and dance party in the core lab made the whole event worthwhile.

Geochemist Howie had a 22 hour day…