23 January, 2010 – On Site: Tripping pipe and recovering core from the bottom of the ocean

The first hole we tried to drill off Antarctica did not like us too much and we had to abandon it. After collecting the pipes going down from the ship to about 3700m water depths, we moved to another Site not too far away, but in a different depositional environment. We tripped the pipes again (to about 3900m; see video for one piece of pipe going down), and got our first core on deck at 2 am tonight. It seems that conditions at this new location are much more favorable for successful drilling, and we are making fast progress down the hole! The routine operation is now rolling and the ship’s crew is just amazing in doing all the hard work for us.

When a core comes on deck, it is cut by the IODP technician in pieces (sections). Each of these pieces is sealed with end caps, labeled carefully, and carried inside the ship. After a four hour period of equilibration (waiting) the core is taken through the various machines to measure its physical properties, and cut in two halves. One of these halves (the archive half) is used to describe the material; a job done by the sedimentologists. The other half (working half) is then subjected to sampling for palaeomagnetics, palaeontology, and geochemistry. Everybody from the science team has to help for two hours per day to do the sampling for everybody else. It is a fun moment when all the different groups of scientists are gathered around the sampling table and decide where to take the samples for the shipboard analyses we want to carry out. Palaeomagnetics and palaeontology will tell us about the age of the sediment and geochemistry and sedimentology will give us a first idea on the composition of the material, how it was deposited, and where it was coming from.
After the sampling is completed, the core is packed up and stored away. We will only see it again at our post-cruise sampling party. This is a meeting, which takes place typically a few months after the end of the cruise at one of the three IODP core repository in the US, Germany or Japan. All scientists meet again to take personal samples for individual research projects. Sometimes this sampling already happens on the ship, but in our case we will postpone it to a later point. The material we are recovering from off Antarctica is very precious, and we want to carefully think about our subsamples, before taking them.

The most used quote on the ship: ‘We are currently drilling where no drill bit has gone before.’ Exciting times …

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