New Zealand scientists have learned to ‘read’ the land and its features. This information is extremely important in a country that sits across the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. However, the country we know as New Zealand is actually part of a much larger land mass called Zealandia – of which 94% is under water. Being able to read the land beneath the sea requires very special equipment and scientists and technicians who can use it.
On 9 March 2018, 34 scientists boarded JOIDES Resolution for International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expedition #375 – a 2-month exploration of the Hikurangi subduction margin. The science and technical teams drilled into the ocean floor, taking hundreds of metres of core samples and inserting observatories into two of the drill holes. Professor Demian Saffer from Penn State University, USA, and Dr Laura Wallace from GNS Science, New Zealand, led the project as chief scientists. Aliki Weststrate was on board as one of two IODP Onboard Outreach Officers.
About JOIDES Resolution
JOIDES Resolution is an ocean-going research ship. JOIDES is an acronym for Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling. The second half of the ship’s name – Resolution – is in honour of HMS Resolution, the ship Captain James Cook used for his scientific voyages over 200 years ago. The 143 metre long ship began its life as an oil exploration vessel. It was converted into a floating science lab in 1985, and the ship’s capabilities continue to improve with technological advances. Read about the ship, its crew and the overall aim of expedition #375 in Aliki’s first and last blogs.
Collaboration and communication
Each expedition has science teams from a range of Earth science fields and from different countries. Expedition #375 involved scientists from New Zealand, China, Japan, Italy, France, Korea, Germany, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States. This makes communication an ongoing challenge on board the ship.
Collaboration and communication are important aspects of every JOIDES Resolution expedition. Answering some of the big questions concerning tectonic plate boundaries and subduction zones requires more knowledge than one person or even a few people have. The science teams have skills in micropalaeontology, sedimentology, palaeomagnetism, petrophysics and more. Aliki talks about this multidisciplinary approach in her fifth blog.
Those involved in the voyages often care deeply about sharing their adventures and findings with others. The IODP has an extensive website with blogs, a YouTube channel, games, ebooks and graphic novels. In addition, expeditions also invite outreach officers to share the science and stories with students and the general public. Aliki tells us about her role as Outreach Educator in this blog. Blogs, live ship-to-shore events (featured in the videos on this page) and educational resources were part of Aliki’s job.
The main purpose of JOIDES Resolution is to collect and study core samples from the ocean floor. As of January 2018, teams had collected nearly 323,000 m of core samples. That’s the distance to drive from Napier to Wellington!
Expedition #375 drilled into the frontal thrust fault that sits above the Hikurangi plate boundary – the area where geologists think slow slip events are occurring. Blog 4 has detailed information about how cores are recovered and what they might tell us.
JOIDES Resolution had sailed in New Zealand waters before. The aim of expedition #375 was to install two observatories in holes drilled into the seafloor. They will stay in place for up to 5 years to record slow slip earthquakes over time. The process to install the observatories is very complex as detailed by Aliki in blog 3 and blog 6.
NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa is also involved in multinational research initiatives. Read about an 8-week voyage to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica in 2008.
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
If you want your own JOIDES Resolution research vessel, you can either make one out of LEGO or make this papercraft model.
In search of Earth’s secrets provides an overview of JOIDES Resolution projects ranging from Dino Doomsday to Quakes and Waves.