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Southampton scientists to investigate role of equatorial Pacific in global climate system

Published: 
27 February 2009

In early March 2009, scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, will join an international expedition to the equatorial Pacific aboard the scientific drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution. A second expedition will follow immediately, commencing in May 2009 – both belong to a single science program called the Pacific Equatorial Age Transect (PEAT).The aim is to investigate the role of the equatorial Pacific in climate change.

The Southampton contingent is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and includes Dr Heiko Pälike, Dr Paul Wilson and Dr Kirsty Edgar of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science based at the Centre. Commenting on their contribution to the project, co-chief scientist, Dr Pälike said “We are extremely pleased and thrilled to see this project start. Planning for these combined expeditions started in 2003, and it is always extremely exciting to work within a group of excellent international scientists. As co-chief scientist, I will largely be responsible for co-ordinating the smooth workings of all scientists during the expedition. Paul Wilson will use his expertise by working onboard as sedimentologist, and Kirsty Edgar, who recently finished her PhD, is going to provide key information as palaentologist, providing age estimates for the sediments recovered.”

The international team will use the vessel’s unique capabilities and recover seafloor sediments and data from the sub-seafloor, which will lead to clearer understanding of Earth’s climate over the past 55 million years – a vital component to predicting future climate change. Earlier scientific ocean drilling expeditions to this region of the Pacific yielded rich discoveries about past climate conditions, biological productivity and the past position of the Pacific tectonic plate relative to the equator. However, these did not obtain essential continuous sediment records.

Building on this knowledge, the two PEAT expeditions aim to drill and recover seafloor sediment cores containing a continuous record of the equatorial Pacific throughout the Cenozoic. PEAT expeditions will accomplish this by drilling at the past position of the equator at successive crustal ages on the Pacific Plate. This will allow for a clearer understanding of how Earth was able to maintain very warm climates, relative to the twentieth century, even though solar radiation received at Earth’s surface has remained nearly constant for the last 55 million years.

Unlike ice cores, which contain only a million years of history from glacial locations, ocean sediments are globally distributed and are key to understanding the evolution of the oceans and climate. When collected through scientific ocean drilling, these sediments provide remarkably precise records of changing climate conditions over the past 100 million years.

The JOIDES Resolution is the US research vessel for exploring and monitoring the sub-seafloor; it operates as part of the international Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). The US Implementing Organization (USIO) for IODP is comprised of Texas A&M University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Already a 20-year workhorse on behalf of scientific ocean drilling, the JOIDES Resolution (JR, for short) has been completely refurbished. The JR is now poised to help IODP continue to push the edge of the envelope of science by collecting unique sub-seafloor samples and data that would otherwise remain out of reach to researchers.

Daily status updates will be posted at

http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/sitesumm.html

The Expedition web page can be found at

http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/expeditions/equatorial_pacific.html

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