Meet the scientists. Vol 1: The Co-Chiefs

Good afternoon! We have a brief respite from the relentless core-on-the-floor this weekend, as we transit to the next site and clear up a few bureaucratic issues with India, so I thought it would be a nice moment to introduce a new segment to the blog: “meet the scientists”.

The scientists are but one part of the crew who work together to make any IODP expedition successful (see my earlier post for a full breakdown of who’s-who on the JR), but they’re a big part of making sure the scientific objectives of the cruise get met. We toil out here for 60 days straight (!) to make sure the cores are properly described and recorded, so it will be of maximum value to both ourselves and the wider scientific community for years to come. So it seems only fitting that you should get to meet us properly.

First up is one of our illustrious co-chiefs, Steve Clemens, who will explain a little bit about who he is and what his job out here entails.


Hello interviewee. Please tell the good people your name, your nationality, your position, and what institute you’re from.

Steve Clemens, USA, Associate Professor of Research, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island   

Steve cochief_low res

Ok great –  what’s your specialty on the JR and what does it involve?

I’m a Co-Chief Scientist. The two Co-Chiefs [the other is Wolfgang Kuhnt from Germany] are responsible for ensuring that the overall scientific goals of the expedition are met. Drilling operations at sea rarely go as planned, there are always surprises.

Thus far we have had delays related to damage from a lightning strike to the drilling tower (!), bent and broken piston cores, and damage to the cable that moves through the drill pipe. Consequently, we spend time revising the operational plan to ensure that we have sufficient time to drill at all the primary locations we have targeted in the 61 days we have to conduct the expedition. We also spend time reviewing and commenting on reports from the various lab groups including sedimentology, micropaleontology, paleomagnetics, chemistry, stratigraphy and down-hole logging. Ultimately we will synthesize all the results into a coherent report on the scientific outcomes of the expedition.  

Uh huh… sounds pretty tricky. Why exactly is this job important to the expedition?

The Co-chief’s are important to the expedition because we are responsible for coordinating the overall organization and day to day operations of the scientific work. This job actually began years before the expedition, with the organization of a group of scientists to write and defend the proposal to conduct this expedition. The proposal spent three years in competition with many other proposals to use the JR for scientific research.  

3_derrick pointers low res copy

Ok then, so you’re a big cheese on the boat, but what’s your regular area of research at home when you’re not on the JR?

My normal area of research is the focus of this expedition, understanding past changes in the Indian and Asian monsoon systems.  

Well then this is just the expedition for you! What is the scientific question you are most hoping to answer with the new material from Exp. 353?

I hope to better understand why the the Indian and Asian monsoon systems change in different ways over time. It’s a bit odd that they do so, given that they both have very similar sources of moisture.  

Ok that’s enough science talk. What’s the best part about being at sea on the JR for you?

No doubt, the best part is working with a large group of enthusiastic scientists who are willing to work 12 hours a day for 61 days in a row and love doing it. Developing new scientific collaborations that will last years into the future is a huge benefit of sailing on expeditions like this one.  

Now what about the bad stuff…what’s the worst part about being at sea on the JR? What do you miss most from home?

Beside the obvious down side of missing family and friends from home, there is only one difficult aspect to working on the JR and that is that there is almost no down-time; it’s nearly all working and sleeping. Even after a 12 hour shift, there’s work left to do.

Couldn’t agree more Steve, maybe you should give us the day off…? 🙂

Tune in next time for more scientist-meeting. Next up: (the most important people of all) the sedimentologists!


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