Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: end of offshore....time for Bremen!

IODP Expedition 381
View 8: offshore phase is complete so let's get ready for the onshore phase!

The Pre-Pre-OSP took place at MARUM in Bremen 4-7 December 2017. Our team (Sally, Malgorzata, and Nataliya) set-up and tested Thermal Conductivity (TC) equipment. The training on the half-space line source (HQL) and the full space line source (VLQ or needle probe), including 2-phase measurement practice, was given by Lothar (a very professional and creative technician from Aachen University). We went through both methods but only a VLQ needle probe will be used for IODP Expedition 381 (Corinth Active Rift Development). We took time to familiarise with operating procedures and even become Drilling Masters! TC equipment is now secured in the reefer at MARUM for Christmas holidays waiting for Pre-OSP in January.

Malgorzata Bednarz and Lothar Ahrensmeier during thermal conductivity set-up (photo credit: Nataliya Denchik)
The training was very instructive with a lot of notes taken during this week. Thanks for Malgorzata to complete existing TC operating procedures and to create a new very useful TC manual!
And Bremer Weinnachtsmarkt (Bremen Christmas Market) with over 170 decorated stalls was an ideal place for relaxing in the evenings. A lot of food and drink to taste: different kind of sausages (Krakauer, Bratwurst, Rostbratwurst, Bregenwurst…) as well as Beer and Gl├╝hwein (mulled wine, with rum for braves).

Bremer Weinnachtsmarkt (photo credit: Nataliya Denchik)

Friday, 8 December 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: a brief update on several aspects of the petrophysics

IODP Expedition 381
View 7: much closer to the end of the offshore phase

So this is like the blog title suggests………..a very brief update! The offshore team have now completed the second site. While some of us in EPC are expecting a snowy weekend to come, the offshore contingent are looking forward to a (probably!) quieter weekend than the previous one. Last weekend, the second downhole logging was in full swing, and there were some challenges to keep it interesting. This is where the Petrophysics Staff Scientist is simultaneously a very demanding but very satisfying role, as it is essential to keep abreast of all developments and be able to rapidly communicate these to all key players offshore, make accurate decisions and coordinate the way forward to successfully acquiring data downhole. We look forward to a future blog post summarising the logging but in the meantime, note the concentration on the faces of the logging team!
Concentration during logging! (photo credit: L. Phillpot)
The MSCL has been uneventful. That is good, as this means data acquisition of petrophysical properties on whole round cores is progressing well. And again, there was time to measure cores for QAQC during the downhole logging.

QAQC core awaiting measurement on the MSCL (photo credit: L. Phillpot)
In other petrophysical expedition news, Sally, Malgorzata and Nataliya (the latter being temporary IODP employees to help with measurements onshore) were recently in Bremen to set up the first equipment ready for the cores arriving back from the ship in January. Again, watch this space for more details soon! 


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: Life offshore

IODP Expedition 381 

View 6: Life offshore as a sea-going scientist 

I’ve been at sea on IODP Expedition 381: Corinth Active Rift Development for just over 5 weeks, and I thought it's about time I provided an update on life here. Regular visitors to this blog may have seen my previous “Corinth Active Rift Development: the Expedition begins” blog where I outlined what I have been doing with my time, so I won’t go into it now. But what is it like to keep an MSCL running 24 hours a day? Well to make things simpler to communicate I thought I’d break things down into my 5 repeated stages for an MSCL operator at sea: 

1. Waking up. 

Seems like an obvious place to start. When I’m at home getting out of bed and on my way to work is a simple half-an-hour task. Quick shower, quick bit of brekkie and that’s that. It’s a bit harder after you work 12 hours a day for 5 weeks. And have I mentioned the beds on the Fugro Synergy? It might just be the hours talking (although I don’t think so) but the beds here are super comfortable. The other factor is coffee-management. It’s easy to drink coffee because it helps so much with the long shifts. You've got to be careful you don’t disturb that sleep cycle though. When I first joined the vessel I was drinking one a day but this ramped up to 5 cups of coffee a day by week 4 on board. Since then I have kicked the habit and am now caffeine free. It’s the little things. 

My shared cabin onboard. Mine for 12 hours a day its pretty
well equipped, though the TV doesn't work as a TV
2. Eating. 

Meals are served for an hour and a half every 6 hours on the Synergy. And they are good. At least 4 options of hot mains provided every time and plenty of sides to accompany them. I have managed to limit myself to only 2 three course meals per day thus far but it has been a challenge. The food has changed throughout the cruise. Bananas and most of the other fresh fruit disappeared along with the most popular cereals and condiments. Somehow Nutella has lasted this long despite it being a very popular choice. Through what I can only assume is some sort of black magic fresh salad appeared a couple of weeks into the expedition at the same time as all of the apples were painted in wax; giving them a plastic and cartoonish appearance. However, after a quick wash they’re still fresh and crunchy on the inside. Fresh veg was replenished on board at the port call after the first site but we just repeated the cycle again with its disappearance. Very surreal. After this it’s time to don PPE and start my morning commute. 

3. Exercise. 

The MSCL is built into a 20 foot container, so there’s no chance I’m doing star jumps between cores. It’s okay though the Synergy has a gym. It’s a simple gym with basic equipment (running machine, exercise bike, rowing machine, dumbbell set and a couple of those reclining chair/bench things). It’s more than enough for an end-of-the-day stretch. I have also started a 100-a-day press-up challenge with a few friends from home, and that is something that I can do between loading cores onto the MSCL! I’ve kept it up for three weeks so far and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The Gym onboard 
4. Sitting at the MSCL.

This is where I spend the majority of my day. It’s a fine enough place to do it. Abah (my opposite shift partner) and I are the only scientists who have a whole container to ourselves (hence the press-ups), which has its positives and negatives. It’s alright though; we have a coffee machine so that is bringing in a lot of visitors nowadays. 

Operating the MSCL as efficiently as possible to keep up with the recovery rate is best achieved by channelling your inner robot. Be an extension of the machine (Neo?). There are many steps that need to be taken in order to make sure that all data is recorded in a meaningful way and at that nothing is missed. This includes (but is not limited to) recording data at the correct time after the core has arrived on deck; QC-ing the curation process with the assistance of the MSCL’s built-in precision ball-screw core pusher and associated laser; and measuring temperature at all stages. The recovery rate thus far on Expedition 381 has been steady and we in the MSCL lab have mostly been able to keep up. That said, there’s a white-board pinned to one of the walls of the MSCL container and it has had become an extension of my brain. Most heavily used during the second half of the shift it’s especially helpful for staving off the post-lunch “I ate too much again” food-coma. 
A waxed apple with the MSCL in the background 

The most interesting thing I have learnt about operating the MSCL all day is how quickly my body adapts. The MSCL motor makes a whirring sound every time it moves and it moves all the time, never pausing for more than 30 seconds. In the first week I developed a 6th sense whereby I subconsciously count in 30 second periods. I don’t know, maybe it came from watching the MSCL for so long, but now if I go for more than 30 seconds without hearing that sound I subconsciously know something requires my attention. It’s really rather cool. 

5. Scratching my head. 

The 5th and final task where time is allocated in any day is time allocated to scratching my head. There are a lot of questions raised when you are on the front-lines of scientific discovery, so I spend a more significant portion of my day than usual in quiet contemplation as I troubleshoot unexpected values and strange data points. Despite the MSCL producing a tremendous amount of high-resolution data very quickly we still have a task on our hands processing it to output a high quality (and usable!) dataset. That’s not to say that we have discovered everything there is to see so far already, far from it. After all, we are only one cog in the engine and this is only the first half of the expedition. We will need to wait to see the rest of the puzzle pieces when we split the cores at the Onshore Science Party in a couple of months. 

And that’s pretty much what I do daily while I am here. Rinse and repeat. 


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: first hole complete!

IODP Expedition 381 
View 5: what does everyone else do during logging?

So the first logging operations were completed over the weekend………….but I am only blogging about this now because unlike those offshore I don’t have to work all weekend! However, all of the team onshore are always on call to answer any queries that the offshore team have and are very good at sending virtual chocolate supplies.

Downhole logging takes place once coring has finished in a borehole (ok this can be a simplification but applies to the first hole in Corinth Active Rift Development: Expedition 381). And logging can take several days, with different toolstrings and different stages, especially when borehole conditions throw up challenges, such as was the case for this borehole. For anyone impatient, here is a photo from early on in the logging operations.

Laurent Brun and Erwan Le Ber early on in logging the first hole. credit: L. Phillpot

What does everyone else do while this is happening? Well, of course supply the loggers with chocolate………
As this is a petrophysics blog, you will have to check out the Expedition blog to find out what other participants do, but here I can discuss how EPC’s Laurence and Abah from the Science Party spent their time. Did they put their feet up and relax? No, certainly not, the gap in core arriving on the ship is often time for the hard-working MSCL operators to catch up on any backlog that has accumulated. Here, as Laurence and Abah had that under control they had plenty of time to run quality assurance and quality control (QAQC) cores through the MSCL to provide checks on the data being acquired and ensure that all sensors are operating to their optimum efficiency. This process is achieved both by using specially selected cores to act as QAQC cores, but also by using the calibration pieces that are prepared in the liners used for each specific expedition.
Laurence Phillpot preparing calibration pieces for the MSCL. credit: E. Le Ber

In summary the Petrophysics team have had a busy few days! What is really enjoyable once the team have both core petrophysical and logging data is tying this together, analysing correlations and identifying where gaps or questions in one dataset can be answered by studying another, and of course starting talks with other scientists about the data that continue into the onshore phase (in Bremen in February 2018) and beyond.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: petrophysical measurements in the first borehole

IODP Expedition 381
View 4: looking forwards to the first downhole logging

The petrophysical measurements that are taken offshore include both petrophysical measurements on the recovered core and measurements taken in situ in the borehole by downhole tools. The core measurements on the first hole of the expedition are well underway and we are excited that the first logging is due to take place fairly soon. The next blog post will contain news from offshore on this!

The last blog post introduced the Geotek™ Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL), which is a piece of equipment that EPC staff and those scientist who operate it offshore become very familiar with, and on Corinth Active Rift Development: IODP Expedition 381, EPC’s Laurence and Abah from the science party are working in opposite 12 hour shifts. The MSCL has sensors measuring magnetic susceptibility, electrical resistivity, P-wave velocity, gamma density, and natural gamma radiation, each of which have their own special ways in which they contribute to the expedition aims. Offshore these measurements are also helpful in providing the petrophysics team with some prior understanding of the borehole before downhole logging commences.

Laurence Phillpot introducing Abah Omale to the expedition MSCL logsheets. (credit: E. Le Ber)

The downhole logging measurements plan and operation is coordinated by the Expedition Petrophysics Staff Scientist, Erwan, requiring detailed discussions offshore with the operational team, the Expedition Co-chief Scientists and the logging engineers. In a perfect formation, in a perfect hole, logging is straightforward and each tool can be run in open hole down to the bottom and measure all parts of the borehole. That can and does happen! By this phase of the operation, analysis of the MSCL measurements and observation of the lithologies recovered can help to inform the logging program in this first hole. Where parts of the hole are anticipated to be less than perfect (which also can and does happen!), the logging team consider options such as logging the hole in more than one phase. Again, watch for the next blog post to find out more about the first downhole logging from Corinth Active Rift Development: IODP Expedition 381 …………. or if you can’t wait for that, check out the recent articles on the Expedition 381 blog!

Laurent Brun and Erwan Le Ber testing logging tools. (credit: L. Phillpot)


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: the expedition begins

IODP Expedition 381
View 3: second petrophysics blog from the ship

So the time has come, the boat is fuelled, the labs are fully prepared and we are all ready to depart from the port in Corinth to our first site in the gulf. Very soon I will be bobbing up and down on the Gulf of Corinth as we drill into the seabed below us in an attempt to discover how it would’ve looked to witness the gulf appear over the past 5 million years (more on the expedition aims here).

Sunrise on the day of departure

The offshore team has now expanded as we have been joined by a subgroup of the scientists from the science party involved in this project. 9 of the 31 total. These scientists will be assisting with running the labs offshore and completing some of the initial analysis and sampling. The job is not a too privileged position though since the cores won’t be split until they reach the Onshore Science Party (OSP) in Bremen, Germany, during January of 2018. Since there is a little delay between recovery and full analysis of the cores, all of the ephemeral properties of the sediments (those that degrade in quality with time) and essential sampling (drilling mud, pore water, microbiology etc.) will be completed with the help of these 9 scientists on the vessel within the first hours of recovery. As one would expect, the doubling of the team size has affected the group dynamic on board the vessel. However the thing to remember about these 9 new team members is that they are all heavily invested in the science and will be completing research using the data produced by this project, each with their individual spins and focuses. This aspect defines the change. All 9 are all so passionate about the work and excited to be here. It’s infectious.
The Fugro Synergy at port in Corinth

Owing to all this, my next two months will be very different from the usual 9-5 office job. So what will I be doing for this time? I will be working on the opposite 12 hour shift to my work partner to ensure 24 hour continual operation of the Multi-SensorCore Logger . The Multi Sensor Core Logger (or MSCL) is an apparatus that measures ephemeral physical properties of rock and sediment cores, now I know that sounds boring when I explain it like that in full but bear with me. The Geotek™ system that I will be using is a fully automated track system where the cores themselves are moved through stationary sensors rather than there being moving sensors or probes. The process is almost fully automatic and generates masses of data at a great resolution. It really is very cool piece of kit.

MSCL lab

This will not the first time that I have used one, personally I have used this system before as well as using similar systems on other projects such as the Geotek XYZ system during the onshore phase of IODP expedition 357: Atlantis Massif; and using EPC’s bespoke MSCL: Fast-track for training during the Petrophysics Summer School 2016  and Petrophysics Summer School 2017.  


So what does the MSCL do exactly and what is my (and my scientist partner’s) job as the operator? Well to be perfectly honest it is fairly simple to understand and operate if you have a basic understanding of material properties.  The 5 properties that it measures in order are density, p-wave velocity, electrical resistivity, magnetic susceptibility and natural gamma radiation. Density is fairly self-explanatory. The MSCL though records electron density which is almost exactly the same as bulk density for the suite of elements that make up rock-forming minerals. P-wave velocity describes the speed with which an acoustic pulse (or sound wave) travels through a material, the electrical resistivity of a material is the inverse of its electrical conductivity and natural gamma radiation simply describes the natural gamma radiation output of the rock or sediment. Magnetic susceptibility on the other hand is bit less straightforward. It is most simply described as the degree by which a rock can be magnetised by an external magnetic field and in sedimentology it is most widely used to infer clay proportions in sand through the recognition of iron content.


My job as operator of the MSCL is to ensure that it is running and continually logging core for the full 12 hours of my shift, with my partner taking care of the other half of the day. This is important because the logger can complete measurements on 3 metres of core in just over 1 hour and therefore only keeps up with everything else if it is operating 24/7. It’s a busy task but we have air conditioning, speakers and a coffee machine in the container to make sure that we are comfortable and sufficiently caffeinated.


If all goes to plan this expedition will recover over 1500 m of core from the Gulf of Corinth. And that’s a busy MSCL (and busy operator!).


Where I will be working for the next couple of months is just the one of the many labs on Main Street. There are also labs for curation, geochemistry and a combined science office for microscopy, visual core description, palaeontology and core-log-seismic integration. But for more info on those labs keep an eye on the Expedition 381 blog over the coming months.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: a view from the ship

IODP Expedition 381
View 2: first petrophysics blog from the ship

IODP Expedition 381, the latest Mission-Specific Platform proposal to be initialised, represents the next location on ECORDs sea-bed exploration map. Located in the Gulf of Corinth, Greece, it is the site of at least three carefully placed boreholes designed to resolve some of the biggest questions science currently has about newly forming continental rifts. Continental rifts, the most famous of which in the geological world is probably the East African Rift, are one result when continental plates decide to split and diverge from one another. Unlike the East African Rift, the one here in Corinth is only ~5 million years old (a geological baby), but it is already deep enough to be filling with water.
So what are the questions Expedition 381 is looking to answer? Well firstly, how do syn-rift faults evolve? How is strain (re-)distributed in the crust throughout this process, and how does the landscape surrounding the rift respond in the first couple of million years? The Corinth rift is the perfect place to study these questions since, as previously mentioned, its only 5 million years young. Furthermore it is the fastest opening rift globally at its fastest point at 15 mm/yr and averaging at 11 mm/yr across its length. In addition it is a region of intense seismicity, with a dense seismic database to inform drilling and fault placement. And that, in a nutshell, is the premise of IODP Expedition 381: Corinth Active Rift development. I’m not going to go into it any further, but if you’re of a scientific mind and you wish to look further into the expedition’s specific scientific aims or get some detail on the expected recovery then you can read the project proposal and its associated addendum. Or if you would prefer an easier read with all the same information you can follow the Expedition 381 blog updated regularly by the scientists on the ship.

Actually I should mention as an aside at this point, there are all sorts of IODP expeditions planned for the future in just about every sub-theme of marine and seafloor research you can imagine and all IODP proposals are available to explore. Or if you would like you can submit your own. Just an idea.
So to the matter at hand, what view do I get in the morning? I get this:
Photo: first view of the morning on the night shift (credit L Phillpot)

I am on the night shift for this expedition, working from midnight through to midday to keep the Multi-Sensor Core Logger running in 24 hour operation. I know this morning view is not the most inspiring but if I wait just a few hours for the sun to poke its head over the horizon then I am often greeted with something much more spectacular.

Photo: sunrise on first morning at sea on transit from Malta to Corinth (credit L Phillpot)

This view was not a bad introduction to the Mediterranean in fall. However, for those of you with keen eyes, a plastic bottle can be seen in the bottom left bobbing past us as we travel through the middle of the Mediterranean. A sad reminder of the impacts of plastic waste and disposal throughout the world’s oceans.

As for other sights, I get some cracking views of the Fugro Synergy with its derrick all lit-up at night, and probably the calmest views of “Main Street” that I will get for the next 2 months. “Main Street” is the name that we give to the walkway between the entrances of the ECORD containerised labs and offices. All the offshore science happens on “Main Street” from sampling and curation to geochemistry, petrophysics, microscopy and initial analysis. When we are in full swing and the core recovery rate is high, it will be a bustling hive of activity.

Photo: view of "Main Street" (credit L Phillpot)

At the time of writing the vessel is now in Greek waters and about to make its port-call in Corinth to collect all those scientists who will be sailing with us for the next two months as we explore early continental rift processes in ways that they have never been explored before.