Category Archives: Musings

The end is nigh (in a good way)

Good afternoon folks,

Well the expedition is drawing to a close as we’re currently only a few miles off Singapore waiting for another ship to move out of the way, then we’ll be off the ship and into the nearest bar! Wayhey!

It’s been a fantastic expedition, despite the delays we had at the beginning with obtaining permissions from India….and the lightening strike that damaged the hydraulics…. and the broken core cable that took 6 hours to fish out of the hole…. yeah, well, despite all that we still managed to get over 4.2 km of pristine core from a region of the ocean that has never been scientifically drilled before – a huge achievement!

Doubtless we, and other scientists around the world, will be working with the material we collected for years to come, discovering new insights into monsoon dynamics and adding to the great pool of human knowledge. Fingers crossed the grant-giving gods are smiling on us and we can get the all important post-cruise science funded!

I still have some blog posts and interviews that I never got round to putting up (sorry, I’ve been kinda busy with the cores!) that will get put up belatedly over the next week or so, but I thought that by way of a wrap-up it would be nice to share my ongoing list of things I miss from home vs. things I will miss from the JR…

Things that I miss from home

Loved ones. Do I even need to mention that. Ok then I’m mentioning it, loved ones – you know who you are!

Eating vegetables that are not boiled to buggery, fresh salad, real non-UHT milk and bananas. God I never knew how much I loved bananas until I couldn’t just have one whenever I fancied.

Sitting in a park and breathing in the smell of grass, and hearing birds in the trees.


[The last trees and greenery I saw… back in November 2014!]

Having a day off to do what I want. Weekends and regular ~8-hour working days are going to seem so deliciously decadent after 61 days of straight work. Phew.

Having a lay-in. Oh dear god a kingdom for one extra hour in bed from time to time!

My own lovely king-size bed, with a proper spring mattress and room to spread-eagle if I want. Oh yeah. Bring it on!

Being able to buy anything any time I want. Run out of shampoo? No problem. Fancy a Twirl? Done. You have to have foreseen every last whim back in November and planned accordingly, or it’ll be February before you can scratch that itch. (Luckily as this is the second time I’ve sailed I managed to get it mostly right this time… except for only bringing one jar of Nutella. Rookie mistake).

Being able to walk in a straight line for more than 10 strides, and without going up or down a staircase. When I get home I’m going to go for the longest walk (in a straight line) of my life!

Things I will miss from the JR

The people. You get so close working 12 hours a day with a small group of dedicated people, and manage to have lots of fun and laughs along the way. I’ll miss these guys!

last sunset

[the gang enjoying the last sunset on the top deck last night. Good times]

Having someone do all my laundry for me. Such luxury. I think I’ve forgotten how to work a washing machine…

Having someone preparing all my meals and doing all the washing up afterwards. Absolute. Bliss.

Being called “miss Kate” by the lovely catering guys, and seeing all the effort they put into making the holiday season fun for everyone.

Watching the sunset and the moonrise over the beautiful Indian Ocean. Watching the ripples on the surface, the fish under the surface, and having a 360 degree view of nothing but ocean all around.

sunset small1

The fact you are excused from checking emails and dealing with banal elements of your regular life whilst at sea. (I am not looking forward to dealing with the backlog of emails when I get back though!).

Being a part of a functioning and focused team. Although being a successful academic requires collaboration with other scientists, most of the time it’s something of a solo effort where you spend lots of time working alone on several different projects and proposals at a time. Here on the JR you all pull together towards one common goal as a unit, which is a nice change.

Being surrounded by people from lots of different cultures, countries and scientific specialties – when I’m at sea I always learn so much about different customs, languages, food…. and funding agency peculiarities!

Improving my ping pong skills (from a very low baseline, I have to confess).

Having a gym about 12 steps from my bedroom. There really is no excuse for not getting in shape on the JR. And with that ice cream machine available 24 hours a day, it really is a necessity…


So, it’s been fun! Thanks for reading along with me and saying hi on Twitter from time to time. Hopefully it’s been an interesting insight into life at sea with IODP.

So long from the JR for now!

windy day

Finding a moment to enjoy our beautiful planet

Afternoon all.

We are still getting fantastic Plio-Pleistocene cores from Site U1445 on the Indian margin, which as well of meaning some very exciting post-cruise research, also means lots of work for the sedimentologists this week!

So for the last 5 days I have exclusively been hunched over the microscope staring at smear slides, for 12 hours at a time:

chained to the microscope

[Silty clay, clayey silt…?…. choices, choices…]

I can now estimate clay abundance with a ~5% error within 10 seconds of looking at a slide. I am not sure if I am proud of this fact or not.

Anyway, all this core-on-the-floor severely limits my available blogging time (a girl needs to sleep), so in the interim please enjoy some pretty photos of the amazing sunsets we get out here. One of the many perks…

3_pink sunset low res     Sunsets rock low res

Curved sunbeam      Sunset on the JR_small

And let’s not forget the luminous moon. It was our second full moon of the expedition yesterday – a nice way to mark time out here. Only 3 weeks left!

moonrise at sunset       Moooooon

It’s important to take a 10 minute break from the lab from time to time….

Sunset admirer       A break from the lab to enjoy the sunset

… but now it’s time to get back to work!.

Time is a relative concept

and nothing brings that home more than realizing your ship is on a different time zone to the port it’s currently in…

Welcome to India_2

So we’re currently in Visakh port on the eastern coast of India, getting some last little bits of bureaucracy out of the way and picking up three Indian scientists as new shipmates – welcome aboard!

India is GMT+5.5 so it’s currently about 1.30 pm, but here on the JR we started the expedition on Singapore time (GMT+8) and for convenience we haven’t shifted timezone as we’ve traveled west towards India. So…. here it’s actually already 4 pm.

So to make that super clear: on the JR: 4 pm; one single step off the JR: two and a half hours earlier.

You can imagine this is making arranging meetings with the Indian officials onshore lots of fun 🙂

Visakh isn’t the most picturesque of towns (well what port is, apart from Falmouth of course…) but it is nice to look outside the window and see trees and birds for a change, even if we’re not allowed off to explore exotic India itself. As a bird-nerd I especially enjoyed looking at the egrets, kingfishers, and bee-eaters flitting around in the scrub next to the ship.

Indulge me:

Bea-eater2                  egret-2-small

Soggy crow     blurry kingfisher


[Also, I don’t know why they are all looking to the right. Maybe there was something interesting over there?]

Off to our next sites tomorrow morning hopefully. More updates and “meet the scientists” coming up…

Have yourself a very merry Christmas

A belated Merry Christmas from all on the JR, on this fine and frosty Boxing Day morning.

IODP Expedition 353 Indian Monsoon

(Well, here it’s about 25C and I’m wearing flipflops, but I’m assured that back home it’s suitably crisp and white!).

I hope you’re all having a nice festive holiday with your loved ones, with plenty of eggnog, wine and mincepies, (while we toil away pulling 12 hour shifts in the middle of nowhere on a dry ship! CUE VIOLINS).

But seriously we’ve had a blast, and to be honest we’ve got everything we need (well, except the alcohol and our loved ones) to have a really fun Christmas on the high seas…

Little stockings hanging up in the galley replete with gifts:


A big Christmas feast, as if we weren’t already fat enough:

IODP Expedition 353 Indian Monsoon

[The guys roasting some birds over the open coals]


[A sumptuous feast, including loads of sushi and smoked salmon!]

Christmas_food carving

[Vegetables carved into shapes you didn’t know vegetables could take]

And we even had a visit from Santa:
christmas_visit from santa_captain
[Captain Terry clearly enjoying his one-on-one time with Santa]

Even though core was coming up all day, and when we were on shift we had to work, we managed to squeeze in an hour or so of festive activities all together. As well as present-giving from Santa, we also had the JR Christmas Choir (of which yours truly was a member – ha!) regaling the crew with “beautiful” renditions of Rudolph the red-nose reindeer, Merry Christmas, and….Silent Night in no less than 7 different languages –my Korean is really coming along, but my Hindi sucks.


Then various groups, (including some very talented folks on guitar, trumpet and drums!), performed for the crew. Here are some of the Filipino guys with a lovely song – no shortage of guitars here!

christmas_filipino band

So all in all, not too shabby a time was had by all. We miss our loved ones a lot at this time of year, but there’s a lot of camaraderie on board, and the IODP guys really try to make it a fun day for everyone.

But for now, it’s back to the core. No rest for the wicked…

Bonus Xmas cracker joke:

Q. What is Good King Wenceslas’ favourite type of pizza?

A. Deep-pan, crisp and even.


What’s the point of collecting ocean mud? What can it possibly tell you?

An excellent question. Let me elaborate.

One of the most basic ideas in Geology is that the present is the key to the past. If you see the process or phenomenon happening today, then you can assume it also occurred in the past and so better understand what the rocks are trying to tell you. For example, we know that glaciers in the modern world leave big scratch marks in the rocks where the ice has scraped past, so if we see those same scratches in ancient rock formations, we can infer that there was once a glacier there, even if those rocks are now sitting in a desert. Simples.

Another important idea that has been gaining momentum in recent decades is that the past is the key to the future. So if you know something happened in a certain way, with certain effects, in the past then there’s a good chance it might happen again in a similar way in the future. History has a habit of repeating itself, after all.

One of the most important issues we can apply this idea to is modern day climate change.

We know we are adding carbon dioxide (and methane, water vapour, nitrous oxide etc.,) into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. We know that these gases are greenhouse gasses and will cause Earth to warm. We know if we warm the Earth enough, then one of the effects will be to melt the polar ice caps (and high altitude mountain ice), raising sea level and jeopardizing the lives of millions of people. That’s on top of other more insidious effects such as ocean acidification and decreasing food crop yields.

This is all basic physics, so there’s nothing really to debate here (despite what certain “skeptics” would have you believe). But… there are lots of unknowns about the precise effects of climate change on the sensitive climate and ecological systems, including the future behavior of the monsoons. We suspect the monsoons will change as the planet warms ­– the monsoon rains are ultimately driven by seasonal changes in heating over Asia – but we don’t know in which direction. Will it get rainier or drier? Will the season of maximum rainfall shift? Will the same amount of rain fall in greater or fewer months of the year?

From an agricultural and policy planning point of view, these details are absolutely vital.

So that brings me back to ocean mud; what can it possibly tell us about future monsoons??

You can think of the oceans as gigantic bowls or basins, into which all the rock and mud that has been eroded from the land will eventually collect, washed in by rivers the world over. So you can imagine that over time the mud collects in layers at the bottom of these giant bowls recording the history of all the rock that has been eroded from the land over the millennia. At the bottom is the very oldest mud, with the youngest mud deposited on top at the sea floor. Mixed in with this rock are things that live in the (fish) bowl, from tiny microscopic plankton to the great whales. These too will eventually settle into the depths of the ocean bowl upon death, to be incorporated in the great muddy ticker-tape of time.

Deep sea drilling cartoon copy

(Literally nothing about this image is to scale)

So when we come along with our big drilling ship, and stick a glorified steel straw into this mud, what we pull out will record the history of erosion and deposition from that region far back into the past (indeed, as far back as we are able to drill down).

And that is what we are doing on IODP Exp. 353.

We are collecting hundreds of meters of this mud, the deepest parts of which can take us back in time to when the dinosaurs were still stalking the Earth, some 75 million years ago. We can use it to look at the behavior of the monsoons, and other phenomena, during periods of time when CO2 was equal to or higher than it is today (about 400 parts per million). Once we understand how the monsoons behaved in this ancient warmer world, we will have a better idea of how it might behave in the coming centuries.

Once we are back on shore (and in our nice comfy labs again), we will take this mud and analyse it using various nifty sedimentological (mud-bothering), geochemical (chemical-bothering) and paleontological (biological-bothering) techniques, until the mud gives up it’s oozey secrets and tells us everything we want to know about the ancient Indian monsoon. But that’s a story for another day…

In the meantime, this is how a bunch of scientists try and decide where the K-T boundary is… pointing and guesswork!

Wheres the KT boundary

(p.s. Wolfgang was right!)