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.

Grace

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.

Laurence

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.

Erwan

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.

Laurence

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Packing List for Life Offshore

The topic of “my first offshore science expedition” is nothing new in the blogging world. I personally have read a couple as they are common topics on the JOIDES Resolution blog, and is anyone surprised? It’s an exciting experience that potentially only happens once-in-a-lifetime. With this in mind I’m going to talk about the week preceding the expedition and what it is like to prepare to go offshore instead.

The formalities:
Expedition: IODP Expedition 364: Chicxulub Impact Crater
Position: Multi-Sensor Core Logger Operator
Length: 1 week, maybe more with good behaviour

The streets of Merida, Mexico, city stop on the way to
the platform
Now let’s get on with it. First and foremost, it’s unusual and involves a different mind-set from holiday packing. Preparing for a holiday usually involves thinking: “what do I want to do in all my free time?” whereas this was closer to: “what do I need to be comfortable and keep me busy during downtime so that I don’t get on everyone else’s nerves”. I’m good at that.

So the first things to go in the bag were essentials of course: clothes, toothbrush, sunglasses, etc. Then followed by more unique items, steel toe capped boots, insect repellent, work stuff. Fieldwork is part of learning to be a geologist so this isn’t entirely my first rodeo, but this is not a typical kind of field that I am going to work in. You really don’t need to pack all that much in terms of clothes either, thanks to the Mexican climate. It is between 26 and 40 degrees at this time of year, day and night. Also, overalls are part of the compulsory PPI so there isn’t much choice beyond which pair of shorts and which t-shirt to wear underneath it. Inspiring I know.

The Lift Boat Myrtle: home for the next week or so
What to do in downtime was a bit of a head scratcher: I’m a Millennial, the internet is where I get most of my entertainment; so how is this going to happen when 30 km offshore? And what about exercise, it’s a 42 m platform with virtually no hull and 33 people on board, where am I going to find the space to even swing a rope? Well, spoiler alert! There’s wifi, although it is pretty slow, and an exercise area outside with free weights so there was no need to worry. I had already settled on music for entertainment though. Plenty of varied music and several sets of headphones (along with a couple of good books obviously). Again, you really don’t need that much because there isn’t much time when you’re working 12 hour shifts.

In fact by the time I was done packing I could fit everything into a large backpack if I had tried really hard, and I think I will if I have the opportunity in future. This was my final packing list: Shorts? Check; t-shirts? Check; undies? Check; steel toe-capped boots? Check; toothbrush and stuff? Check; a couple of good books? Check; done.

So that’s it, nothing too complicated. All that was left was to finalise flights. For those of you who don’t know, exploratory scientific drilling is not an exact science because you never know exactly what you are going to find; and this makes judging the rate of expected progress tricky. So I had to work a bit of leeway into my schedule; flying out a bit earlier and booking flights back for a bit later than expected because there was no way that I was going to be responsible for delaying this multi-million dollar expedition! But, more on the expedition itself and whether I enjoyed the experience or not next time.

Laurence

Monday, 4 April 2016

Chicxulub’s peak ring: exceptional geologist bling

Sometimes there are not many places to look for a specific geological feature. The peak ring of the Chicxulub crater is the perfect example: it is the only unequivocal instance of a peak ring known on Earth. Some others may have existed in the past but have since been eroded through geological time. When geoscientists come to study peak rings, they can look through a telescope, at Venus or The Moon. But when testing hypotheses on Earth, the only known analogue is located beneath the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico.

Source: ECORD
A peak ring results from rock displacement when a meteorite collides with a rocky body. At Chicxulub, current hypotheses suggest that the impact was so powerful the rocks at the site behaved like a fluid. Like a droplet into water, the collision generates an uplift at the centre of the crater, this uplift then collapses outwardly to form a peak ring. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 364 will investigate specifically, and for the first time, the peak ring of Chicxulub Impact Crater: here the structure forms a circle 80 km in diameter. In April and May 2016, 30 km north from the coast of Yucatán, an international team on board Liftboat (L/B) Myrtle will attempt to drill and sample a 1.5 km deep borehole to reach the peak ring. The feature is now preserved beneath 17 m of water and more than 650 m of Cenozoic carbonates at the drilling site.

The logo for Expedition 364, ©ECORD
The main expedition goal is to shed light on the physical processes involved in the formation of peak rings. The collision also likely resulted in the sterilisation of the impact site; and so another key objective aims to evaluate if and how microorganisms re-established in the peak ring; and the role of hydrothermal systems at the post-collision event site. Geophysicists, sedimentologists, geochemists, microbiologists, micropalaeontologists and petrologists from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, France, China, Japan, Australia, USA, Canada and Mexico will work together during the project to address these questions.

The European Petrophysics Consortium (EPC) is heavily involved in this expedition, as part of the ECORD (European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling) Science Operator (ESO). Johanna Lofi (University of Montpellier), Erwan Le Ber and Laurence Phillpot (University of Leicester) will coordinate all of the downhole and core petrophysical measurements. Data collected downhole provide a continuous record of rock properties along the borehole. A multi-sensor core logger (MSCL) is used to measure physical properties of recovered cores, at a resolution of 2 cm. By comparing downhole and core logging the exact depth of the cores in the borehole can be calculated; a very important aspect of this expedition, as key horizons such as the PETM and the K-Pg boundary should be sampled. Finally, the combination of downhole and core petrophysical measurements will be crucial to test current hypotheses of peak ring formation. This expedition represents an exceptional opportunity to investigate a truly exciting geological feature: this unique peak ring, testimony of one of Earth’s most dramatic events.

Equipment being loaded onto the L/B Myrtle, ©Sally Morgan, Leicester

After the offshore phase of the expedition, core samples will be sent to the IODP Bremen Core Repository in Germany, where further analyses will be done this autumn. EPC will continue to coordinate the acquisition of more petrohysical data on the core material recovered.

You can keep up-to-date with project developments through the expedition webpage and by following @EPC_Research.

Erwan

Monday, 14 March 2016

Come Sail Onshore

The second ECORD training course: The Virtual Drillship Experience was held at MARUM, Bremen, from the 7th to the 11th of March 2016. This course originated from the very successful ECORD Summer School, also hosted by Bremen, that includes “Virtual Ship” sessions.  The concept, welcomed by the scientific drilling community, gives participants the opportunity to learn about expedition workflow and various analyses performed during offshore research drilling projects. The focus is more process related than the sister Summer Schools that always centre on one of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) scientific themes.  In response to the high demand and interest, The Virtual Drillship Experience was created. It is a unique occasion for scientists interested in sailing to become, or to become once more, familiar with IODP. MARUM is the ideal location to host this event: as it is one of the three IODP core repositories, with more than 150 km of cores, as well as laboratories and facilities we can find on a drillship.

Over 5 days, 29 participants from around the world and from different scientific disciplines were immersed in shipboard activities; covering physical properties, core logging, sediment visual core description and smear slide analysis, high-resolution linescan imaging and color scanning, biostratigraphy, pore water acquisition and analysis, and finally, hard rock core description. To guarantee optimal interaction with the tutors and the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the equipment, participants were divided into 3 groups, rotating between the different labs and practical exercises. Tutors included many experienced senior scientists with significant experience in offshore expeditions, ensuring genuine and relevant examples. Early career researchers Anna Joy Drury (postdoc, MARUM) and Erwan Le Ber (IODP research associate, University of Leicester) also had the opportunity to participate in teaching, giving an introduction to core physical properties, with practicals on a multi-sensor core logger (MSCL) system and on discrete samples (Moisture and Density, Pycnometer).

Sampling session for Moisture and Density
The Virtual Drillship Experience is not only about participants familiarising themselves with offshore workflow and the different data acquisition methods. Our apprentice sailors also had to use their skills and knowledge acquired during the virtual drillship experience to interpret downhole logging data with Sarah Davies (University of Leicester) or to generate core correlations and age models. Participants were also introduced to the more general aspects of IODP; including curation, data management, sample requests and proposal writing. In 5 days, attendees covered the most fundamental aspects of shipboard activities, and we now wish them “fair winds and following seas”.

Click here for more information on The Virtual Drillship Experience, and here for other ECORD Courses and Summer Schools.