Category Archives: Transit

Making our way from one site to the next

Awesome sediments recovered from the Indian margin… now we’re off to the Andamans!

Howdy folks,

Time for an update on what we’ve been up to lately, as I’ve been too busy working for blog maintenance! Where to begin…?

During the first 12 days of 2015 we have achieved an awful lot, having successfully completed two of our most important target sites on the Indian margin. Boo yeah!

We have begun and completed coring at the first of the “BB” Sites, Site U1445, which was our deepest (oldest) target in this region. We drilled down over 600 m into the sediment, which combined with a water depth of 2400 m meant an impressive 3 km of pipe hanging off the bottom of the boat. Again, take a moment to wonder at the technological marvel of that.

At Site U1445 we double-cored to depth and got some fantastic sediment going all the way back to the late Miocene (~6 Ma), which will allow us to reconstruct monsoon and ocean dynamics over this critical interval of Earth’s history, in a region never before scientifically drilled by IODP. So in that sense, everything we find here is new to science and will add tremendously to our understanding of the planet’s most potent climate phenomenon.

Indian Ocean map3_jan 13

We then moved a little ways north and into shallower water (only 1400 m) to drill the second of our BB sites, U1446. This site was targeted to be our high-resolution Pleistocene section and boy it did not disappoint. Double cored with fantastic APC recovery it yielded a super high-resolution account of the last million years or so of sedimentation in the Mahanadi Basin. Woof!

I’m sure a whole heap of great science is going to come out of these cores and I am so excited to get back to the lab to start working on them. (Almost as excited as at the prospect of sleeping in my own bed and drinking a cold beer. Not in that order).

With so many different scientific specialties on board, from sedimentology to micropaleontology to physical properties and geochemistry, the potential for collaborations is endless. I’m sure the scientists on board, along with our shore-based collaborators and students, are going to be working together on this material for years to come.

While I’m here, by way of an explanation you may have noticed that I am (and indeed the people behind the official JR Twitter and Facebook accounts are) always a little vague when it comes to describing exactly what we’ve recovered out here during the expedition. Those engaged in outreach have to strike a delicate balance between letting everyone know all the cool stuff we’ve found and not giving too much away…

Why is this? Well, one of the rewards for the scientists for spending two months out here working 12-hour shifts is the head-start we get in getting the post-cruise science started and published. We have 12 months from the time we take our samples (probably July 2015) before anyone else is allowed to work on these cores, after which they, and all the data we’ve collected during the expedition, become fair game for the whole scientific community to request and analyse. So we want to make sure we don’t put too much sensitive information out into cyberspace that might jeopardise our plans. It’s only fair after all.

Having said that, I am just dying to tell everyone how awesome this stuff is! So here for your viewing pleasure is some mud from U1446. You might not know why exactly it is so awesome, but trust me, it is 🙂

U1446 core photos_blog

This mud makes us happy – like really, really happy…

Happy scientists_small

Right now we’re on our 3-day transit, chasing the sunrise east towards the Andaman Islands, where we’ll start drilling our final site. Yes, there’s even more awesome mud to come! So watch this space.


Still to come:

-What do geochemists and paleomagnetists do on board?

-What do we find in the Andaman Islands?

-Where do the crew eat and work out on the JR?

-Who won the inaugural JR International Ping Pong Tournament 2015???

Any port in a storm…

So we wrapped up successful coring operations at Site U1444 last night, pulled up the pipe overnight, and are now on our way to Visakhapatnam port (“Vizakh” for short), eastern India – huzzah!

We will arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning (the 29th) and hope to get ushered into port as quickly as possible. We have a few last inspections to pass before we head into Indian waters (keep all your fingers and toes crossed…), but this should be the last hurdle in our quest for the monsoon-critical sediments we are all hoping for. Watch this space.

In the meantime, the weather has gone all to hell.

big Waves

After heading to bed at the respectable time of 2am last night, I was rudely awoken this morning at 7am-ish by an increase in motion and noise, which tells me that a) the thrusters have been pulled up and we’re no longer stationary, and b) the ocean swell had increased. After trying to go back to sleep unsuccessfully for about half an hour, I had to get up, take a sea-sickness pill (the first one in the last 10 days!), and go and eat a ginger biscuit from the galley. Clearly this did the trick as I managed to then sleep way past my alarm, shuddering awake only 15 minutes before cross-over at 11.30 am – uh oh!

So what’s up with the weather?

Well at this time of year the warm and wet summer monsoon winds from the south have reversed, bringing cooler and drier air from the north to most of India. However, if you’re in the Bay of Bengal, like us, or on the south eastern coast of India, this air from the north picks up moisture as it passes over the ocean which translates into rainfall further to the south. We haven’t had a whole lot of rain so far, but we are feeling the effects of this northerly wind, and the big depression to the south of us.

bad weather                        bad weather 2

[Hint: bright green lines = big winds, purple = bad; we are in the green circle in the LH picture, the red marker in the RH picture is Vizakh port]

Certainly not a good day for a BBQ or a spot of sunbathing on the “steel beach”.

wet picnic

[A soggy day on deck]

Anyway, it’s nothing too serious, and certainly nothing the JR can’t handle (she’s a sturdy girl!) but it does make report writing a bit more challenging. Nothing like staring at a screen while the ground moves underneath you to make you feel really awesome 😦

Hopefully we’ll soon by tied up in port and out of the swell, and then on to our next coring adventure!  Stay tuned.

Preparing for the worst….

… hoping for the best!

So yesterday morning us day-shifters were rudely awakened at the ungodly hour of 10.30 am for our weekly lifeboat drill. Even though the JR is a very safe and stable ship, it’s still possible that we might run into trouble if we get hit by a very severe storm or a big fire breaks out, so we need to be prepared to abandon ship should the captain give the word.

So the general drill is this:

1. The general alarm sounds throughout the ship, followed by an announcement by the captain that either “this is a drill” (good) or “no really, this isn’t a drill, abandon ship!” (not so good). So far we’ve only heard the first one. Phew.

2. Grab your life jacket, you hardhat, and your safety glasses (I’m not sure why we need the latter, but sure, why not), and make sure you have sturdy shoes on – e.g. not my habitual shlompy flipflops. Full outfit beautifully modeled by Katie here:

Katie lifeboat

3. Make your way to your muster stations, which are located next to your lifeboats on the Bridge (top) deck. There are four lifeboats on the JR, two on each side, and each can hold 70 people at a push (but man would that be a squeeze!) –so more than enough to handle the 140-strong crew we have on board.

Here is a view of Lifeboat 3 on the starboard (right) side of the ship:


4. If it’s just a drill, you can probably get your name ticked off and go and eat some ice cream for breakfast or something (we have an ice cream machine on board… fatness is constant threat…), but if it’s for real you’re gonna have to get in the boat!

Here’s Steve and Kau looking very happy about being in a lifeboat despite the cramped conditions and perilous nature of the situation (photo by Marci Robinson):

Boys in the lifeboat

There are a whole bunch of complex instructions about how to release the lifeboats from the ship, and how to start the engine etc., which I tried very hard to pay attention to, but suspect if it actually came down to it I’d probably just panic and pull all the switches and levers at once, no doubt plunging us all into a premature watery grave. So, I plan on leaving it to the professionals if at all possible.

I think the best part is that the captain, the doctor and the photographer are all assigned to my lifeboat, so if anyone is gonna get rescued, it’s us! And we’ll have some nice photos of our time to-boot.

Next post: what are we actually doing with all this mud we’re drilling from under the sea…?

Leaving the Straits and heading for the open sea!

So we’ve been traveling at over 12 knots (which is pretty fast for the JR) night and day during the transit so far, and we’re making great time. Scheduled to be onsite at Site U1443 by early morning on the 8th Dec (local time).

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 7.01.50 AM

map_6th dec

Another perk of being almost through the Malacca Straits is that it means we can step down our pirate alert level a little. Although we weren’t anticipating any big problems, and it’s a lot safer than waters off Somalia, there is still an issue with theft and piracy in the Straits that we need to be aware of. We’ve taken lots of precautions though, including posting watchmen to make sure no one can sneak up on us, and putting some mean-looking razor-wire around the boat as a deterrent.


Anyway, if I was a pirate, I wouldn’t fancy taking on a boat full of burly drillers and sailors!

Smooth sailing and wildlife spotting

We’ve now spent two full days negotiating the busy waters of the Malacca Strait as we make our way to the first coring site. After the initial raininess of Singapore, the weather has been extremely calm and the ocean looks like a millpond.

millpond      kate on ship1

Excellent news for those of us with a predisposition to sea-sickness (very much me).

We’ve been spending the last few days preparing ourselves for the sediments we expect to find out here, by training on the specialist equipment and by looking at “practice cores” we have on the ship. When the first core arrives it’s going to be fast and furious in the lab, so we need to have our ducks in a row before it all kicks off.

Workwise, we have decided on our nomenclature for the sediments (borrrring) and chosen which symbols we want to represent all the sedimentary structures we expect to encounter (slightly less boring). So not the most exciting activity in the world, but it’s very important to make sure we’re all on the same page before the precious cores actually arrive. We don’t want any mistakes!

But in between the work, there is time to appreciate the beautiful surroundings and admire the local wildlife. I saw a pod of dolphins yesterday, and a few people even saw some giant leatherback turtles! No turtles for me, but I did see a rather fetching jellyfish and a whole bunch of flying fish.

dolphin1     jellyfish

flying fish

I love how those little guys skitter across the water, sometimes for upwards of 30 m at a time – truly a wonderful sight.

Right, enough enjoying the wildlife for one day – back to the lab!