Scientist to investigate equatorial Pacific, global climate

University paleontologist Ted Moore will join an international expedition to the equatorial Pacific aboard the scientific drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution this month. This will be Moore's third voyage on the drill ship.

"This ship has drilled as deep as 1.3 miles into the sediment and rock that lies at the bottom of the deep ocean," Moore says. "It has drilled at over 1,000 locations in the global ocean, seeking to reveal the history of the oceans themselves, the nature of the crust that lies beneath the sediments, and the processes that take place within these rocks and sediments."

The current expedition, under the auspices of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, is part of a scientific program called the Pacific Equatorial Age Transect. The team of researchers onboard will take advantage of the vessel's unique capabilities to recover sediments and data from the sub-seafloor.

Earlier scientific ocean drilling expeditions to this region of the Pacific yielded rich discoveries about past climate conditions, biological productivity and the past position of the Pacific tectonic plate relative to the equator. Building on this knowledge, this expedition and a second that will follow immediately after it aim to drill and recover seafloor sediment cores containing a continuous record of the equatorial Pacific throughout the Cenozoic Era, which began 65 million years ago. This will allow for a clearer understanding of how Earth was able to maintain very warm climates, relative to the 20th century, even though the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth's surface has remained nearly constant for the last 55 million years.

Unlike ice cores, which contain only a million years of history and can be obtained only from glacial regions, ocean sediments are globally distributed and are key to understanding the evolution of the oceans and climate. When collected through scientific ocean drilling, these sediments provide remarkably precise records of changing climate conditions over the past 100 million years.

"In order to be prepared for a future warm Earth, we should know as much as possible about the past warm Earth, at a time when greenhouse gases — the putative cause of the present warming trend — were probably the major players in creating a very warm climate," says Moore, a professor emeritus of geological sciences.

The JOIDES Resolution is the U.S. research vessel for exploring and monitoring the sub-seafloor. It operates as part of the international Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). The U.S. Implementing Organization for IODP is comprised of Texas A&M University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Already a 20-year workhorse on behalf of scientific ocean drilling, the JOIDES Resolution completely has been refurbished and is poised to help IODP continue to expand scientific knowledge by collecting unique sub-seafloor samples and data that would otherwise remain out of reach to researchers.