Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell writes about her work on board the JOIDES Resolution research vessel in the Scotia Sea, drilling for sediment core samples to study how much and how fast the Antarctic ice sheets melted between 2.5 to 4 million years ago, the last time atmospheric CO2 was at the same level as today.
60 days in Iceberg Alley, drilling for marine sediment to decipher Earth’s climate 3 million years ago
Competition is stiff for one of the 30 scientist berths on the JOIDES Resolution research vessel. I’m one of the lucky ones, granted the opportunity to work 12-hour days, seven days a week for 60 days as part of Expedition 382 “Iceberg Alley” in the Scotia Sea, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
I’m a paleooceanographer. My research focuses on how Earth’s oceans and climate operated in the past; I’m especially interested in how much and how fast the Antarctic ice sheets melted between 2.5 to 4 million years ago, the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were about 400 parts per million, as they are today. This work depends on collecting sediment samples from the ocean floor that were deposited during that time. These sediment layers are like a library of the Antarctic’s past environment.
The JOIDES Resolution is the only ship in the world with the drilling tools to collect both soft sediment and hard rock from the ocean – material that we recover in long cylinders called cores. No wonder researchers from all over the world, at all career stages, are excited to have traveled from India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, China, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States to join the expedition.