The “What’s” and “Why’s” of Expedition 342

My name is Caitlin Scully and I am the education officer for Expedition 342. I am so excited to share our adventures both on and off of the JOIDES Resolution. You can learn some of the specifics about Expedition 342 on the expedition site.

You may be wondering why the JR is heading to the North Atlantic and what the goals are for our science party. What is a sediment drift? When was the Paleogene? Hyperthermals? What? Fear not! This post will describe the initial what’s and whys of Expedition 342: Paleogene Newfoundland Sediment Drifts.

The JR will leave Bermuda on June 1st to begin the weeklong trip north. On the way to the primary drilling locations, we will make a stop about 100 miles southeast of New York City. This location is both critical and exciting, as the crew will be testing new drilling equipment. The results of these initial drilling tests will determine what equipment will be used for the main drill locations in the North Atlantic. After a few days along the US East Coast, we will head to the primary drilling locations. This is also when the JR will pass the final resting place of the Titanic. The Titanic lies among large-scale sediment drifts on the bottom of the North Atlantic. These sediment drifts are reminiscent of giant dunes, except they are made of mud in the deep sea.

Why are we drilling into these sediment drifts? Well, there are four reasons:

  1. Determine the types of plankton alive in the North Atlantic during the Paleocene (65-23 million years ago). The types of plankton fossils in each core tell us about the global climate of the time, the same way finding a mammoth skeleton implies cold climate!
  2. Discover the historical paths of major ocean currents in the North Atlantic. Today, North Atlantic Deep Water (the “engine” for the global current system) is formed and crosses under the Gulf Stream near where the JOIDES Resolution will be drilling. Has this always been the case?
  3. Learn more about the Eocene-Oligocene transition 33 million years ago. This was a time when Earth was transitioning from super warm Eocene into the frigid glacial period of the Oligocene. What happened? How long did the transition take?
  4. Fine-tune the geologic timescale to take into consideration times of extreme warmth. A global hyperthermal climate is one where the Earth was unusually hot! For example, we hope to find evidence of the hyperthermal event the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The PETM occurred 55 million years ago and instead of ice there were crocodiles and palm trees at the poles!

Just over three weeks until we embark on Expedition 342! Don’t forget, we have openings for free Ship-to-Shore Broadcasts available – all you need is Skype, a webcam, and a love for science!

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