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Drilling for Clues to Ancient Climate

On the Joides Resolution research vessel, a team of scientists study the Earth’s climate history by drilling deep into the ocean floor and analyzing the deep sea dirt.

Two weeks ago the ship docked in Newfoundland, but while it was still at sea, we interviewed Richard Norris, the vessel’s co-chief scientist to find about more about the ship’s ambitious mission.

“Today if we look forward in the future, we have to use climate models to figure out what might happen in the next century or two centuries,” Norris said. “But in the geologic record, you’ve got the whole thing. You’ve got the start, the middle and the ending of these past episodes of global change, so it’s a very nice sort of analogue to what might happen in the future.”

Here’s how it works: A drill derrick that sits in the middle of the ship drops a pipe 2.5 miles below the ocean surface and then drills holes as far as 700 feet into the sea bed. Core samples are retrieved and delivered in 30-foot long pipes to the scientists, who examine the dirt, organisms and microfossils in the sediments. Embedded in the layers, they can see the visual imprint of 50 million years of climate change.

You can learn more about this latest mission, Expedition 342 here. Among other things, the mission aims to learn more about the climate conditions that led to the Arctic ice that struck and sunk the Titanic in 1912.

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