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.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Corinth Active Rift Development: a view from the office

#IODP #exp381
View 1: introduction

This morning is my first time in the empty office since my colleagues Erwan Le Ber and Laurence Phillpot departed for adventures offshore on #IODP #exp381 as the Expedition Petrophysics Staff Scientist and EPC Petrophysicist respectively. One of the tasks I am looking forward to while they are offshore is explaining some of the exciting downhole logging and core petrophysical measurements in near-real time.

The Corinth Active Rift development is the eight Mission Specific Platform (MSP) Expedition and the seventh since I joined the EPC team at Leicester. Both Erwan and Laurence previously sailed offshore on the highly successful Chixculub K-Pg Impact Crater #IODP #exp364 (refer to earlier blog posts). This experience helps the team be excited for the work ahead and ready for the challenges each expedition throws up that are unique.

Photo: the actual view from my office this morning, but this is less petrophysically interesting than a picture from offshore (unless you really like trees and squirrels), so the next blog update will feature a view from Erwan or Laurence on the drillship Fugro Synergy.

The ship set sail from Malta yesterday and is on route to meet the scientists in Corinth. Watch this space!

In the meantime, for more information see the #exp381 webpage or the #exp381 blog

Thursday, 5 October 2017

A Fly on the Wall at the Summer School

Between the 2nd and 7th of July 2017, students, academics and industry professionals flocked to the University of Leicester for the 2nd Petrophysics Summer School in order to learn more about the fundamentals and applications of petrophysics. The cohort of participants, which numbered 30, had travelled from 27 institutions, and represented a plethora of nationalities and cultures, but had come together centred on the common interest in petrophysics. To lead this summer school, 19 tutors had been brought in from 10 organisations, including the European Petrophysics Consortium (EPC), ALS Petrophysics, BP, Imperial College London, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and Schlumberger. Amongst these tutors were the University of Leicester’s very own Sarah Davies, Erwan Le Ber, Laurence Phillpot, Tim Pritchard and, the organiser of the summer school, Sally Morgan. The summer school itself was sponsored, with generosity, by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), the London Petrophysical Society (LPS), Aberdeen Formation Evaluation Society (AFES) and the UK International Ocean Discovery Program (UK IODP). Kind contributions to the school were also given by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and Weatherford, and over half of the participants received financial support to facilitate their attendance from IODP entities: the United States Science Support Program, ECORD, and UK IODP, with the goal of training the next generation of scientists.
Day 0: Saturday evening saw the programme kick off with an ice-breaker party in the King Richard III Visitor Centre in the heart of Leicester. Here the participants were greeted with a gift bag containing a range of goodies as well as their work folders for the week. After being taken to the King’s Hall, the participants were free to mingle and ‘break the ice’ in the informal setting where refreshments eased some of the awkward tension. Both guided and unguided tours of the centre ensued and people could see the most famous parking spot in the UK – the grave site of Richard III.
Day 1: Sunday was a day of laying the foundation of the participants’ understanding of scientific ocean research drilling and offshore operations. Lectures were given throughout the day, interspersed with regular refuelling breaks, where coffee and biscuits were among the offerings, and a large spread was put on for lunch. The regular breaks also gave the participants a chance to view one another’s research posters. Prior to a mini conference, Leicester’s Tim Pritchard gave a thought-provoking talk on the future of petrophysics in which participants were encouraged to imagine the possibilities from a multi-disciplinary standpoint. The mini conference gave participants a chance to introduce themselves via 2-minute elevator-style talks, and to present their research via poster presentations. This really displayed the diversity of backgrounds that people had come from, with research presented covering a vast range of topics (the effects of microbes in CCS to a sedimentological study of the Mercia Mudstone Group in Ireland), using a huge range of analytical methods (including, GPR, XRD and P- and S-wave measurement) and being applied to numerous geological situations. This thirsty work was compensated for by a wine reception during the final poster session. The end of the day heralded a chance for the participants to explore the new, and to some, very unusual and unfamiliar city. A large group travelled over to the Old Horse pub (a favourite drinking establishment of the Leicester Geology Department) and then to a local curry house on Queens Road to sample the curries that Leicester is so famous for.
Day 2: Strong coffee was available for the early start. Prior to lunch were the rigorous lectures of petrophysics 101 delivered by Imperial College’s Pete Fitch, giving the participants a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the subject. Lunch was followed by a session on core processing workflows by Ingrid Paola Tello Guerrero of ALS Petrophysics, from the well site to laboratory reports. BP’s Sam Matthews rounded off the afternoon with an interactive session on estimating hydrocarbons in place, allowing the participants to put what they had learned into perspective and understand the real-world application. In the evening an optional lecture was given by Rebecca Bell (Imperial College London) about the science behind a couple of upcoming IODP expeditions (372 and 375) that will be exploring the Hikurangi subduction margin. Such optional evening lectures are a long-standing tradition at Leicester and the summer schoolers followed the Leicester evening lecture format by continuing discussions about the talk (and the day’s activities more generally) at the pub.

Participants completing a log response exercise during a morning session. (Credit, Erwan Le Ber).

Day 3: On Tuesday, participants took a break from the University-based classroom work and went on an excursion. The morning was spent with Weatherford at their Reeves Wireline Technologies facility in East Leake, where participants could see the origins, research and development, and use of some downhole logging equipment in a state-of-the-art facility. Following this, participants were travelled to the BGS in Keyworth where they enjoyed a packed lunch to tie them over for their visit to the BGS Core Store. This visit was guided by University of Leicester’s Sarah Davies, who had prepared a logging exercise that allowed the participants, to get up close and personal with the core, comparing the lithological packages (from a range of environments, both subaerial and subaqueous) with petrophysical log responses. Participants appeared to be very impressed with the sheer volume of core stored at Keyworth and were also somewhat captivated by a topographic sandbox also at the facility. Many attendees purchased souvenir specimens from fantastic on-site BGS shop. During the evening everyone got into the 4th of July spirit with an American-inspired meal and drinks at Meatcure in the centre of Leicester, an ideal period of down time after a day of such intense study.

Prof. Sarah Davies giving a tutorial to participants, comparing lithologies to log responses at the BGS’s Keyworth core storage facility (Credit, Erwan Le Ber).

Day 4: The field-trip and evening of the previous day had given participants a renewed vigour and people were ready to press on with the work. Wednesday saw their initial introduction to Schlumberger’s Techlog. After a shaky start due to some minor issues with loading data into the software, participants worked through a series of exercises, designed to familiarise them with the interface and Techlog’s capability. The day provided essential groundwork for more complex case studies in the following days. Another bonus evening lecture rounded off the day, this time given by Leicester’s own Mike Lovell entitled ‘Petrophysics in the Kitchen’. Armed with beers the group were treated to a lecture about the everyday uses of petrophysical principles including audience participation involving glasses of milk and chocolate bars.

Participants getting hands-on experience with Schlumberger's Techlog (Credit, Erwan Le Ber)

Day 5: Over the course of Thursday, participants were given further training in Techlog through several extended sessions including exercises on acoustics and borehole images, and core-log-seismic integration from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Gilles Guerin and Angela Slagle, respectively. As had become typical during the summer school, sessions were punctuated by regular and well deserved coffee breaks. Despite the demanding day of work, everyone made it to New Walk Museum for drinks and an informal tour around the museum’s Geology wing given by Tom Harvey, a paleobiologist and lecturer at Leicester University.

Group Photo Op at New Walk Museum, the ‘Rutland Dinosaur’ making up the backdrop (Credit, Erwan Le Ber)

The Leicester-themed evening continued with a three course meal and drinks at a local curry house generously sponsored by UK IODP. Towards the end of the meal, prizes and acceptance speeches were given to and from those who won the poster and elevator pitch popular votes and the more formally adjudicated poster competition. Dessert rounded off a pleasant evening, and the group slowly turned in for the night in preparation for the final day of petrophysics training.

Dr. Sally Morgan, organiser of the summer school, handing out awards for popular voted elevator pitches and posters as well as the adjudicated poster competition (Credit, Erwan Le Ber)

Day 6: Friday morning gave the group a chance to put their Techlog training to the test, with IODP and shale gas industry case studies. Participants had found the training to be very useful discovering that the software was user-friendly once they understood how to navigate the interface. After lunch there was a free session in which participants could get some unconstrained leisurely use of the software and review any of the things covered in the course to that point. The final session of the summer school was given by Erwan Le Ber and taught participants how to design their own logging plan using IODP Expedition 364, Chicxulub K-Pg impact crater as a case study. The week and the summer school were brought to close by a final thanks and farewell by Sally Morgan, the organiser of the summer school, in which participants received their certificates, including acknowledgement of them having completed 36 hours of CPD-accredited training.

 Joshua Smiles

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Fun and flare in phys props

Not only am I new to the blogging world, I am also new to International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expeditions. On that basis, I would like to share with you my time with EPC, working on their most recent IODP expedition, Expedition 364: Chicxulub K-Pg Impact Crater. Expedition 364 started in Mexico 6 months ago to discover the secrets of the dinosaur- killing asteroid impact that occurred 66 million years ago; and if you’re interested why, find out here. No expedition more exciting than that, right?
EPC team at Bremen Core Repository
So this has been a fairly well-documented expedition, and there are many blogs out there which outline the scientific details of the expedition, through to documentation of how to decide how many pairs of pants you will need for the duration of the offshore expedition. However, my perspective of the Expedition 364 Onshore Science Party (OSP) is slightly different to most. As mentioned before, I am new to the IODP world, but I think this provides a unique perspective and so I would like to share with you my experiences, and what I took away from my very first OSP.
The first stage: splitting the Chicxulub core
I joined the OSP midway through the onshore stint at the Bremen Core Repository, Germany. Upon arrival (after a very early 3am start back in the UK) I was warmly welcomed by the Physical Properties (or Phys Props as we are famously known) Team of which I was to be a member. The majority of my time at the OSP was spent continuing the ongoing Moisture and Density measurements (or MAD for short) on small, discrete samples from the Chicxulub cores, and the name speaks for itself, it really is MAD! I arrived at a very busy time, when core splitting had surpassed the target of 35 m a day and accelerated up to 75 m a day! That’s a lot of core, and a lot of running between labs to ensure you aren’t lagging behind with your measurements. Although this was the role which I was responsible for, you are part of a team, so help is always given when asked for. However, the Phys Props Team is also a cog in the much bigger OSP machine, and so helping outside of your designated role always helps to keep the core flow going smoothly. For example, you can help the digital line-scan team cart core to the Visual Core Description (or VCD) lab, or prepare the cores so they are ready for colour reflectance work. All these tasks help to keep things in running order. However, there is always room for some creativity, from simple drawings on the core labels, to setting up a time lapse camera, to record the comings and goings in the Phys Props lab during the shifts.

All the running around aside, there is still time for a cup of tea (or coffee if you are that way inclined) and a few biscuits, pretzels, fruit, sandwiches, mini burgers… (you get the picture), while waiting for a batch of MAD measurements to finish. From day one I realised that hovering around the refreshments offers the best chance to meet the vast array of people from different scientific backgrounds and expertise that make up the science party. There was always someone around (with there being over 50 science party and technical staff) providing ample opportunity to learn more details about the expedition, the science that will continue for years to come, and even hear about past and future expeditions, and of course a few anecdotes.
Creative core labels
I found it really interesting to attend the science meetings during the OSP, which occurred at the shift cross-over each day. This was the time where the science party discussed the results and their ever-evolving theories over the coming weeks, as more core was split, described, sampled and analysed. This was the meeting where any member of the OSP could listen to discussions and learn more about these fascinating cores. Not being an impact crater specialist myself, it was a brilliant insight into the ongoing research, which meant as the OSP progressed I began to understand more about the science and the many different research questions being addressed by the Expedition.

Unsurprisingly, this IODP expedition drummed up a lot of media interest, bringing journalists, photographers and, for the first time on an OSP, a film crew! This was a very exciting time for scientists, who were given the chance to communicate to the general public the importance of the work that the IODP and ECORD are doing, specifically surrounding the Chicxulub impact crater. Of course also this was an opportunity to get yourself in the background of a shot that might end up on TV. Hi mum!

So I’ve mentioned the hard work that has gone into making this OSP a success and the brief moments of respite during shifts, but what happens after the shifts and at the end of the OSP you may wonder? Well, being in Germany, you have to take advantage of the situation, so going for a few delicious beers after work is a sure thing! Although, if you are not familiar with OSP shift patterns (as I wasn’t a few weeks ago), the afternoon shifts are preferable, where you begin at midday, giving you just enough time to recover from the post-shift karaoke antics at Paddy’s Pit the night before. However, being on the morning shift, starting at 7.30 am (as I was), doesn’t stop you from participating in late night karaoke. Once the OSP had finished, we all had the opportunity to relax and enjoy some local events, such as the annual Bremen Freimarkt, which has to be one of the biggest and fantastically bonkers funfairs I have been to. From munching on traditional German Bratwurst and soft pretzels, to enjoying a local beer and riding the roller coasters, there isn’t a better way to end a few weeks in Germany.
The wünderbar Bremen Freimarkt
A final thing I would like to add is that, this isn’t your everyday job, and is definitely unique to anything I have done before. Working as part of an OSP, together with sampling Chicxulub core, sharing in the discovery of impact crater peak ring contents, and having the chance to witness ground zero for the K-Pg boundary is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I will probably never experience again.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Back to (Petrophysics) School

Two weeks ago, on Sunday the 26th of June, the first ever summer school in Petrophysics hosted by the University of Leicester kicked off with drinks and a free out-of-hours tour of the King Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester City’s old town. A moderately-well documented event, you can find out more about the formalities on the web page, or you could read a more formal blog post on the Leicester University website. Here though, I am going to list some of my personal reflections: Looking back on the event from my perspective as an assistant. But as a summary; there are two non-work-related aspects that stand-out as highlights. 1) Meeting the colleagues of my colleagues and; 2) the opportunity to get a sense of the wider petrophysics community and the work that is going on. But let’s start at the beginning for context.

Paleontologist and guest lecturer Dr Tom Harvey
at the New Walk Museum
Striking the perfect balance of formal to informal; the ice was thoroughly broken at the aforementioned visitor centre meet-up, where awkward-silence-littered conversations slowly dissipated at roughly the same pace as the wine was consumed. Many participants had travelled thousands of miles to be at the summer school, and this diversity was reflected in a wide range of approaches, dress, and above all accents. Between the 30 participants, 19 different nationalities were represented; coming from 11 separate countries institutionally. It was a similar story with the summer school’s tutors as well, whereby of the 20 tutors/helpers, 12 separate institutions/organisations from 6 different countries were present.

Setting up a Geotek Core Logger for demonstrations
This atmosphere of like-mindedness though a passion for petrophysics lingered throughout the week as experts and professionals alike shared their experiences with participants through a series of lectures that built from the ground up. With various practicals spread throughout the week including operational demonstrations of equipment, fieldtrips and courses on the fundamentals of industry-standard software packages. But this is going off topic.

This week was the first time that I had met some of our professional partners in person, but I don’t think this was entirely a unique experience. The atmosphere suggested that this meet was the first time that so many had been in the same room for a while. Not really surprising though, given the large offshore expedition-focussed aspect of the job. There were many people that I had ‘met’ over skype or had ‘conversations’ with through email; and many more that I had heard of through reading their name on an expedition proceeding or scientific paper. However this week provided some time to get to know them as people rather than solely in the limelight of their professional career. A real privilege, especially given the calibre of character. But that’s all you’re getting on that subject, if you want to know more you’ll have to start studying to become a petrophysicist and get involved!

Clever scientists being clever
So, onto my second point. The petrophysics community. I think there is one thing that we can agree on about scientists – they’re clever people. So when you gather a bunch of them in a room and give them an opportunity to tell you what they are researching right now, the results can be pretty interesting. This is why throughout the first half of the week coffee breaks were combined with a series of poster sessions. To give people ample opportunity to bring and share.

Research areas were wide ranging. All the way from the realms of ‘classic’ petrophysics such as: the effect of particle size on fluid migration or the architecture of carbonate reefs; all the way to where interests were more than a little outside the box, such as using borehole imaging to re-orient core samples in order to investigate high-temperature deformation; or assessing the mechanical and chemical processes that occur when seawater interacts with rocks that have come from hundreds of kilometres underground (spoiler alert – this may give rise to primitive life forms that are not dependent on sunlight!). Full disclosure, some of these terms go straight over my head too – that’s why these guys usually stand next to their posters to explain… but I do recommend googling some of these terms, or getting involved yourself so you too can learn some science. It is a wonder to hear about the amazing things scientists in the petrophysics community can achieve, especially when using old data from the IODP legacy dataset.

So there’s my two cents on the petrophysics summer school. I wish I could tell you more about the content of the course but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend all the lectures thanks to “work” and all that. Maybe I will next time though.


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

40,000 Points

It has been more than one month since the end of the offshore phase of IODP expedition 364. I wanted to wait a bit to review this experience, because writing something just after would have been a mix of “it was so hot”, “I think I had too many cookies/brownies” and “that was intense”. Now I am rested and relaxed, I can look back at these 58 days spent offshore Mexico on the 42-meter-long Liftboat Myrtle. A tiny, yet impressive place where I was part of such a fantastic scientific expedition: to drill the peak ring of the Chicxulub Impact Crater . That was my first offshore experience.

So, yes it was hot, and yes it was intense. But there are more important things to report from this experience. First of all, even if I heard of what a mission specific platform was and what the missions of the IODP  (International Ocean Discovery Program) were, it was impressive. It was impressive to see such a geoscientific operation taking place, just to bring rock samples to the surface, describe and analyse them. Just science.

My main role offshore was to measure physical properties of the cores, using a multi-sensor core logger (MSCL). It was not only me on the MSCL; we worked on 12-hour shifts to ensure a continuous workflow. Analysing cores for 12 hours in a row, 90 minutes for every 3 meters of core material, can be long. But it can also be rewarding: other scientists were really interested in this petrophysical data. We provided instant valuable information like rock density and magnetic susceptibility. Density was probably the most useful while offshore, for scientists to better understand what they described and how it fitted with their model. On the other hand, the magnetic susceptibility data (usually useful for correlations between boreholes and cores) was more of an amazement, to see the range of responses measured from the different materials recovered from the peak ring. I am sure that even if we do not use magnetic susceptibility as a correlation tool here, it will give scientists crucial information about the variation in composition of the rocks formed or affected during the impact.

The MSCL lab
Some feelings now about the measurements:

  • Satisfying: we were lucky enough to have a measurement time that fitted perfectly with the core recovery rate, never too far behind the drilling team;
  • Mildly frustrating: it was a single well and we did not know what lithology will be recovered in the next core, making it difficult to visualise the big picture;
  • Highly satisfying: to look at the MSCL dataset now; measurements every 2 cm across a total length of 830 m of core: more than 40000 measurement points in total;
  • Even more satisfying: to see that downhole logging data I helped to collect (with EPC staff from the University of Montpellier ) match very well with the physical properties measured on the cores. The hole was very nice and we collected good data; the cores were continuous, fairly well preserved and we collected good data. Of course it is not possible to show them now because they are under moratorium.

I think it was good to wait a bit before reviewing this experience; to dim the excitement of the expedition and of coming back home; to forget about some unimportant but inevitable technical problems; to relax. What I will remember from this first expedition is satisfying: good data, good team effort and epic geological setting.


Friday, 17 June 2016

IODP as an ECS

Left to Right: ESO's Alex Wülbers, Associate Professor
Marco Coolen and myself at breakfast
As a follow-up on the ‘a packing list for working offshore’ blog I wanted to talk about my experience on the ship itself, but (as previously mentioned), this is not a new idea because, quite simply, it’s an exciting experience to talk about. As a consequence, there are already lots of good blogs out there about the actual living process such as what eating is like, sleeping arrangements, and especially large numbers of blogs about the work itself – shift patterns, what was discovered, etc.… Whilst I’m on the subject though I would recommend the IODP Expedition 364 blog, even though the offshore phase of the expedition has now completed it is still a good read and will introduce you far better than I can to what life was like offshore. There are good blogs on what daily life was like on the Myrtle; the drilling process and operations; and the science itself.

So with most major topics covered by voices that carry more authority than mine; I wanted to talk about the times in between working and operations, the free time. Because this is the stuff that has really stuck with me since I returned. Now before I go any further I want to preface the rest of this by saying “this is not an advert for working with the IODP”. Although I can’t help it if you take it that way and I would still recommend it personally… especially to Early Career Scientists (ECS’s).

Everyone was a long way from home
Bountiful free time is never guaranteed when working offshore because each day presents a new set of and interesting problems to tackle. Even in the middle stages of the expedition when you might expect everything to be taking care of itself and when there are generally fewer ‘peripheral’ jobs that need doing such as setting up, cleaning and packing down equipment. When I was on board there were several days when spare time was a valuable commodity because rock core and fresh samples were arriving very hour; and there were some days when the drilling team were changing a drill bit (yes, this is as literal as it sounds) and I needed to be a little more creative with how I filled my time (although there are always things that need doing and it’s easy to fill the time with QAQC and calibration checks). So what did I do with my time? There were a few things going on. I could make a sign that pointed in the direction of home and the number of kilometres to get there (photo); I could enter the photo competition for a chance to be featured in the next iteration of the ECORD calendar; I could play a strange form of quoits using the end-caps of cores; lots of options. Usually though, I would sit and chat with the other scientists about the science itself (If you aren’t aware already I was offshore on IODP Expedition 364: Chicxulub Impact Crater, have a read, exciting stuff!). When you are offshore on a scientific drilling expedition though, there are times where chit-chat can be hard to come by because other participants are busy with work, overwhelmed with human contact and wanting to be left alone, or asleep. But there other occasions, usually during a shift change when scientists and engineers are out of their containers or off the drill floor that are golden opportunities not to be missed.

At this point I should introduce why people make the insane choice to live on a 42 m long platform with 33 other people for up to 2 months. Because they love what they do, it’s their passion. And this makes for some rather interesting free time conversations, because there isn’t really any cognitive free time… and that’s fine! Personally I was on shift with: impact petrologist Auriole Rae, organic Geochemist Marco Cooleen, and expedition co-chief scientist Sean Gulick; along with a whole host of ESO staff – all specialists and successful scientists in their own right.  Such diversity meant that conversation topics ranged from meteorite impact models to rock core curation processes; making quick stops at microbiological and geochemical testing methods. As well as simple things like: ‘what’s for dinner’ and ‘how many days after you get home will it take to binge-watch Game of Thrones’. Now bear with me here because this is the point where I may lose your trust and you may start to believe that this is indeed an advert. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are both fundamental corporate values to the IODP. It says right at the beginning of the IODP Science Plan for the period 2013-2023, in the Executive Summary section: “This science plan for the International Ocean Discovery Program is intended to guide multidisciplinary, international collaboration in scientific ocean drilling during the period 2013 to 2023.” When I read this I envisioned formal invites to conferences and black tie events where participants critique one another’s work, listing the pros and cons of working together. And these events may still occur, in addition to the informal exchanges I experienced offshore.

Not a bad view I'd say
There are no conference rooms on a research vessel, everyone has to wear personal protective equipment (overalls, hardhats, steel toe-capped boots and safety goggles), and you are on a boat, a very small boat… so conferences are not a practical choice. Instead, people just talk. Simple. And these conversations are what I meant by ‘golden opportunities’ earlier. Now just because I refer to them as casual conversations does not mean that they were hand-wavy or nebulous. These were more like deep dives into scientific hot topics because the conversationalists are passion driven experts in the process of discovery. And if that little question: “why?” was ever dropped in; the likelihood is it would release a torrent of fact-based and fully sourced justifications. They still weren’t formal though; despite being intense! Most discussions were spontaneous and happened over an ice-cream at sunset, or with a cup of tea at the midnight shift change. And THIS was what stuck with me, there was no pressure, no judgement, just a passion for science.

I know personally that I came away from a week at sea knowing far more about a much wider range of topics simply by being involved in such a project. I can honestly say that the expedition has been the most motivational week of my life, and I had already decided that I love what I do. That is why I recommend getting involved with IODP if you are an ECS, not just because it is exciting to be on the front lines of discovery for your OWN science; but because you are on the front of everyone else’s as well and you never know where that may take you.