Tiny tiny shells, big big screen

May 16th, 2009
We are still on our way to the first site.  We are expecting to get there around noon on Tuesday.  It will take a long time to get set up to start bringing up mud from the seafloor, probably by early Wednesday morning.

In the ocean, there are lots and lots of plants and animals that live at the surface.  Except they are very very small.  So small you cannot see them without a special piece of equipment called a microscope.  Microscopes make very tiny things look much bigger.  Many of these tiny plants and animals have shells on them.  When they die, their shells fall through the ocean and eventually land on the seafloor.

When enough of them die, all of their shells together make the mud we find at the bottom of the ocean.  This mud made of shells is called an ooze.  What the mud looks like is mainly based on what shells are found in the mud.  There are two main plants that leave their shells.  One type of plant is called a coccolithophorid and their shells look like the top left picture in the picture above.  The other type of plant is called a diatom, which is the lower left picture.

There are two main animals that also leave their shells.  The most common is called a foram, which is the bottom right image.  The other animal, called radiolaria, is the top right picture.

You have probably never seen plants and animals like these, and that is because you need a microscope to see them.  A very special type of scientist studies the mud made from these plants and animal shells.  These shells of long dead plants and animals are called fossils.  We call these scientists marine geologists.  They are a lot like the scientists who study dinosaurs, but they work in the ocean on very small fossils.

The oldest fossils that the scientists have seen on this trip have been around 23 million years old.  How big of a number is 23 million?  If you had 23 million gallons of water, it would cover a football field 230 feet deep!  There are no cities in the United States with 23 million people.  The entire country of Australia has fewer people than 23 million.  So 23 million years is a long time!
After the scientists are done working with these very old fossils, if they don’t feel like exercising that day, they can go to the movie room on the ship.  There are lots and lots of movies that they can choose from, and they have one of the biggest TVs I have ever seen!  This way the scientists can relax a little before going to bed.  After all, working with mud all day every day is very hard work!
Tomorrow I will tell you about what makes the JOIDES Resolution such a special ship, and some of the things they have done in the last almost 25 years!