Greetings from Japan.
The Expedition 353 team is currently in sunny Kochi, in the southern part of Shikoku island, about 600 km SW of Tokyo. We’re here for the so-called “sample party”, which probably sounds a lot more relaxing than it really is…
Our job for the next couple of weeks is to take all the individual samples from the sediment cores we collected back in Dec/Jan, so we can take them back to our home laboratories and carry out experiments. As I’ve said before, actually getting the mud from the bottom of the deep blue sea is the fun part, but it’s only half of the scientific process. The only way we can answer the big questions we have about how the monsoon behaved in the deep past is to carry out sophisticated experiments and generate multi-proxy data that we will use to test our theories.
But taking all 47,000 samples that have been requested by the expedition participants is no mean feat.
The cores are being stored at the Kochi Core Center (KCC) where they are kept cool and safe by the expert team of curatorial staff. The team are capable of sampling the cores for us, but with so many samples to take, and with their placement within the core being so crucial, it’s best that the scientists who are requesting the samples come and take the samples for ourselves.
Racks of cores in the white D-tubes, waiting to be sampled on the table. The team is working hard to make sure everything goes to plan
So here we are, spending from 8am til 6pm every day in the windowless lab working on the cores. It’s just like being on the ship (except that you can go out and get a beer in the evening…).
We have all prepared our sample lists in advance, and the only thing left to do is actually take the samples and bag them up. We pull out the core sections one by one, carefully check that they are labelled correctly, before using either metal or plastic knives and scoops to take the samples from the exact depth in the core that they have been requested from. We replace the sediment we have removed with polystyrene to hold the core together and stop it moving about.
We look quite serious, but that’s just because we’re concentrating hard on not mixing up samples. We also manage to have some fun, even if some members of the team think is is acceptable to play Genesis loudly from their laptops (they are mistaken…).
After sampling, some of the very popular cores have barely anything left in them, and are more polystyrene than mud!
As well as being here for the physical grunt work of taking the samples, the sample party is also a really good opportunity to talk to the rest of the 353 team and finalise our post-cruise science plans. We are all applying for research funds from our home institutes and funding bodies (NSF, NERC etc.), to carry out the important work on these samples over the coming years, and it’s important to make sure our efforts are coordinated between different labs.
It’s also just generally very nice to see our shipmates and friends again, and to be back in Japan to sample the amazing food, hospitality and culture of this beautiful place.
Nearby Kochi castle in the October afternoon light