May 02, 2023
Environmental Science Students Tour Research Vessel
Not every day, you can sail around the Azores, but one fortunate class of Upper School science teacher Dr. Alexa Tzanova did just that. Her environmental science class experienced five 30-minute Zoom calls with the scientists and crew of the Joides Resolution—this research vessel drills into the ocean floor to collect and study core samples. The research of the two dozen geologists, microbiologists, and scientists aims to understand how life began on Earth. The study is part of IODP, an international ocean research program.
The number of people aboard the Joides Resolution is 117, including 51 scientists and 66 staff members working 12-hour shifts, 24/7. The current expedition is headed from Portugal to the Atlantis Mesi, a 14,000-foot mountain under the Atlantic. The tour guide stated the Atlantis Messi has two unique features. First, it is an area where the tectonic plates are splitting apart, so the Earth’s crust is thinning. The second reason is that it is the site of a hydro-thermal field with carbon chimneys that produce heat and energy, a possible indicator of the center of our icy moons in the solar system. The crew plans to deepen a previously drilled hole in the ocean floor to push closer into the Earth’s mantle, where temperatures can reach 400 degrees F.
During the Zoom call on May 2, the project’s communications director allowed the KO students to tour the ship’s front section, leading the students through the catwalk, drill area, bridges, workshops, and labs. In one lab area, she pointed out where the rock samples are first cooled on a rack before being taken to observation tables, where they are measured, x-rayed, gamma-rayed, and tagged by the location. The scientists jostle over the rocks and must collaborate to see whose research is prioritized in examining the samples’ deep crust physical properties.
Ultimately, at the tour’s end, the students had a Q&A with a Ph.D. student and scientists in the conference room. The scientist explained that they were drilling to understand what happened when the oceanic crust formed. One KO student asked how they entered the field, and the Ph.D. student said she studied geology as an undergrad and wanted to dive deeper to explore what’s under the oceans. The person who gave the tour studied communications in college and shared that there are many positions within the organization and many opportunities for non-STEM people, including graphic design. Not all the staff on the ship and in the program have their Ph.Ds. The scientists are selected by application from countries around the world.
“I sailed on that ship for two months as a scientist as part of my Ph.D. in 2012,” Dr. Tzanova said. “It’s just a tremendous opportunity for our students.”
Here is the ship’s website: https://joidesresolution.org/