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Drill ship unfolds 'pages of a history book'


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POSTED: Saturday, May 09, 2009

Scientists aboard the JOIDES Resolution are unlocking the earth's life story with sediment recovered from far beneath the Pacific ocean floor.

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program ship arrived Monday with core samples that date back in time to the warmest sustained “;greenhouse “; period on Earth — about 53 million years ago.

Scientists learned from the sediment records that “;then, alligators lived as far north as the Arctic, and palm trees existed in the Rocky Mountains,”; said Heiko Palike, co-chief scientist of the first of two back-to-back expeditions by the drill ship, known as “;JR.”;

“;It's an amazing archival of climate history,”; said Palike, of the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.

Every inch of sediment represents 2,000 to 3,000 years, he said.

“;It's like unfolding pages of a history book,”; he said.

Hiroshi Nishi of Hokkaido University, Japan, also co-chief scientist, said tiny microfossil shells in the sediment can be used to measure geologic time and environmental change.

The ship is named for the HMS Resolution commanded by Capt. James Cook more than 200 years ago. JOIDES stands for Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling.

The vessel was rebuilt into a “;21st-century floating science laboratory”; over two years at a cost of $115 million, and the scientific program resumed in March with a project called Pacific Equatorial Age Transect.

“;The objective is to look at how climate history is reflected in sea floor sediments,”; said senior scientist Adam Klaus, of Texas A&M University.

Kamehameha Schools Chaplain Kordell Kekoa blessed the ship yesterday at Pier 2 in a ceremony marking what science leaders said was an “;enormously successful”; two-month voyage.

Arden Bement, National Science Foundation director, and Bob Gagosian, Consortium for Ocean Leadership president and chief executive officer, predicted an era of groundbreaking science and “;dazzling discoveries”; with the Resolution.

“;For eons, humans have looked up into the skies for insights into Earth's origins and its place in the cosmos,”; Bement said. “;Now we can look down into the depths of the oceans and deeper. We can drill beyond the abyss to find such insights.”;

The ship will leave today for the second phase of the expedition. Roy Wilkens, senior researcher in the University of Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, will join the scientists.

Brian Taylor, dean of the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said the Resolution has called in Honolulu seven times and that 53 UH faculty and students have participated in expeditions. They served nine times as co-chief scientists, a role Taylor had twice.