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One of the world’s largest scientific research ships, JOIDES Resolution, undertook six expeditions in 2017/18, exploring New Zealand waters to probe some of the 21st century’s biggest science questions. The 143 metre long ship, operated by the 23-nation International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), had teams of scientists from all over the world on board.

JOIDES Resolution is a huge, floating laboratory, and the crew on it are truly international – each member country of the IODP can send researchers to make up the scientific crew of 30. As well as scientists, there are up to 60 ship staff – cooks, technicians, engineers, drillers, medics and a captain. JOIDES stands for Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling, and Resolution remembers Captain Cook’s famous ship of the same name that he piloted around Aotearoa over 200 years ago.

Each 2-month voyage had a different science focus – the forces that generate earthquakes, our past climate and its relationship to tectonics, the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and probing the inside workings of a submarine volcano northeast of the Bay of Plenty.

During expedition #371, sediment cores were collected from beneath the Tasman Sea seafloor to investigate the relationship between tectonics and global climate changes around 50 million years ago. This was a time of high atmospheric CO2 levels when temperatures were 10°C warmer than the present day.

Scientists believe sediment cores from beneath the Tasman Sea hold clues to massive changes in tectonic forces that formed the Pacific Ring of Fire and shaped our mostly submerged continent of Zealandia. The researchers are also interested in finding out if these tectonic changes influenced the flow of ocean currents, which may help to explain the pronounced warming of seas around New Zealand at this time.

Expeditions #372 and #375 targeted slow-slip earthquakes off the coast of Gisborne, providing a deeper understanding of the Hikurangi plate boundary – New Zealand’s largest fault. Cores were drilled 500 m below the seafloor and deep-ocean observatories installed into the boreholes to give scientists much-needed information on the structure and behaviour of the plate boundary and the future risks of large earthquakes and tsunamis. The causes of huge submarine landslides in this area were also investigated.

Aliki Weststrate was on board JOIDES Resolution as the IODP Outreach Educator for expedition #375. She wrote a number of blogs about her account of a voyage full of excitement, challenges and science! See her articles here. Learn more about expedition #375.

Expedition #374 saw JOIDES Resolution sail to the rough and remote Ross Sea near Antarctica to drill into the seafloor off the Ross Ice Shelf. The expedition aimed to improve our understanding of the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet through multiple cycles of warming and cooling over the past 20 million years. This information will eventually contribute to climate change models.

Expedition #376 investigated seafloor hydrothermal systems at the Brothers Volcano, northeast of Bay of Plenty. This remarkable volcano is belching highly acidic fluids at over 300°C into the overlying ocean. Amazingly, there is life in this environment, so scientists on board studied the microorganisms that live there to provide insights into the extreme conditions of this seafloor ecosystem.

Expedition #378 will be the last in New Zealand waters, late in 2018. It will take the ship south of Stewart Island to study the South Pacific’s climate history. Drilling will reveal information about the Eocene era, 56–34 million years ago, when the world experienced extreme global warming. Learning how the southern Pacific was affected by this warming, which was also associated with high levels of greenhouse gases, will help to improve predictions of the impacts of future global warming.

Learn more about JOIDES Resolution and its research

Together, the six voyages cost around $120 million and delivered 200 scientists to Aotearoa to undertake research that will continue well beyond the expeditions. The entire project is believed to be the largest-ever project-specific international investment in New Zealand science in a single year.

New Zealand participates in the IODP through a consortium of research organisations and universities in Australia and New Zealand, including NIWA, GNS Science, University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington and University of Otago. The Australia and New Zealand IODP Consortium (ANZIC) supported participation of New Zealand scientists and outreach/education officers on all the expeditions.

Nature of science

Scientists on board JOIDES Resolution collect sediment cores to aid their understanding in fields ranging from geology to climate change. Using data from the cores as evidence, they make inferences about tectonic activity or past links between greenhouse gas levels and global warming. This reflects the gather and interpret data science capability.

Related content

Find out more and see an animation about slow slips in the article What are slow slips?

In the activity Something creepy is happening, students explore slow slips.

Useful links

Watch this YouTube clip about JOIDES Resolution and its research.

This video in te reo Māori talks about the history of the JOIDES Resolution as well as the different aspects of scientific research that happens on board the research vessel. 

Learn more about the international science vessel JOIDES Resolution.

Find out about New Zealand’s part in the IODP.

Get more information on the IODP.

Follow GeoDiscovery for the latest news releases on the JOIDES Resolution expeditions around New Zealand in 2017/18.

Acknowledgement

This article has been written by staff at GNS Science working as part of the ANZIC IODP Consortium.

 

    Published 20 December 2017 Referencing Hub articles