My Wintery, Stormy Summer Expedition

Gisela Winckler and crew carry sediment cores on the catwalk of the drill ship Joides Resolution. (Photo: Tim Fulton, IODP)

While most people were sweating this summer, I spent two months on the wintery and stormy Southern Ocean, co-leading 30 scientists from 13 countries—including Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory postdocs Julia Gottschalk and Jenny Middleton—in an international climate research expedition.

We were out on the RV Joides Resolution, a drill ship that allows us to recover seafloor sediments from over 1,000 feet below the bottom of the ocean. The sediment cores we retrieved are an archive of Earth’s past environmental and climatic conditions.

No expedition before us had drilled in that remote region of the South Pacific. We recovered beautiful sedimentary sequences more intact and more detailed than expected. One of the stunning surprises was that we found drop stones, which are large pebbles that can only be transported by icebergs. Their presence can be used to reconstruct the instability of the Antarctic and Patagonian ice sheets and gives us a unique window into past climate variability.

Other highlights included finding—unexpectedly—a new type of foraminifera, a carbonate shell-forming plankton species that had never been observed, and drilling into the oceanic crust underlying the sediments.

The low point of our journey came in the middle of the expedition when a huge storm system, the size of Australia, came rolling across the South Pacific and forced us to leave the region and to RAW (Run Away from Weather). We spent about two weeks (out of the two-months expedition) hiding from this scary storm before we could return to our studies.

Looking back in time at natural climate variability, and its drivers, using the samples we collected will help us to better predict and combat impacts from human-made climate change.

Visit Columbia News to see more photos from the expedition.

— Gisela Winckler is a research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Division of Natural Sciences. Follow her on Twitter: @GiselaWinckler.

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