The JR has now moved north, and we are currently drilling sediments at Site U1538 in the Pirie Basin. Site U1538 succeeds U1537, which was drilled in the Dove Basin. Thinking back to our first site, U1534, on the Falkland/Malvinas Slope, it occurs to me that we have now made our way through five separate sites. That’s five stratigraphic sequences characterized by their own interesting lithologies, microfossils, magnetostratigraphy, and drilling complications. It’s almost as if each site has developed its own personality, with each scientist looking at the sequence in their own way. What does each site have to offer? Can the project that I proposed be addressed in one sequence, but not another? What are the potential complications in this core? With whom can I collaborate?
It may seem like a lot to think about at the end of a two-month cruise, but the fact is that the work is just beginning. When we leave the ship in just under two weeks, we will head back to the lab and begin preparations for post-cruise activities. For some, these include a pilot study to test the feasibility of a proposed method. For others, they include plans to write proposals for student funding. Now, don’t walk away from the post just yet! I know lab work and proposals may seem tedious and dull, but let me convince you that they are equally as interesting and as important as the expedition itself.
Once we return to our institutions, we will begin working up pilot samples collected from both the working and archive half of the cores. There are X-ray images to be analyzed, ice-rafted debris to be sieved, microfossils to be picked, and biomarkers (organic material leftover from organisms) to be extracted. Samples for individual analyses are not usually taken during an expedition, but our timeline dictates that we should begin working up material before our sampling party at the end of the year at the Bremen Core Repository in Bremen, Germany. It’s not a party in the normal sense of the word, but it is an event we are looking forward to.
At the sampling party, we will once again come together as a science team to do more extensive sampling of the cores. Each person will have a plan for collecting individual samples that will be influenced by many different variables: sediment deposition rate, analytical methods, our shipboard collaborations, etc. The data we will eventually produce will be analyzed and the results written up. Drafts will become papers, which will become manuscripts submitted to scientific journals. Some of these data may be needed as a proof-of-concept in a proposal being written to fund future projects and expeditions. And so the cycle begins anew.
This is the part of science that I find so exciting: being part of a collaborative, iterative process designed to address questions and solve problems that we observe in the world around us. Not that living on ship in the Southern Ocean for two months isn’t exciting, but it’s just one small part of the job we’ve signed up to do. Even as the end of the cruise draws closer and I think about how much I will miss living on the JR, I find that I am not so sad as I am anxious to begin the next phase of the journey. As they say, the best is yet to come.