UW Researchers to Explore Pacific Ocean Floor to Understand History of Earth’s Crust

The JOIDES Resolution, referred to as JR, is the research vessel that  will be used to collect samples along the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo courtesy of the University of Wyoming)
The JOIDES Resolution, referred to as JR, is the research vessel that will be used to collect samples along the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo courtesy of the University of Wyoming)

Two professors in the Geology and Geophysics Department at the University of Wyoming will soon set sail this December, but it won’t be a leisurely vacation as husband and wife.

Professors Michael Cheadle and Barbara John are part of a 26-member international research team that will venture to a deep scar in the floor of the Pacific Ocean between December 13 and February 14. The team will study rocks collected from below the seafloor in an effort to better understand how the Earth’s crust is formed.

The cruise is part of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program United States Implementing Organization - a multinational research project that operates up to three research vessels that sail through the world’s oceans.

The ships will drill cylindrical holes - called bore holes - to collect samples of rock and sediment from below the seafloor. The team hopes to address questions about geology, climate, oceanography and natural hazards - including earthquakes.

With advancement of the drill every 5 to 10 meters, core samples are brought to the surface and onto the ship’s deck. The new core is then laid out in trays and spliced in half for the scientists to observe.

Cheadle says the world’s oceanic crust plays an important role in the formation of the Earth's surface.

The United States, Japan, European nations and several other countries are involved in the 50-day, multimillion-dollar operation which is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences.

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