Newswise — Just after Easter, as the Antarctic winter approaches, an expedition led by geologists from Florida State University's Antarctic Research Facility (ARF) will board a National Science Foundation research vessel for a month-long voyage 15 years in the making.
Embarking from the southern tip of Chile for the re-freezing waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, the group of scientists on a project known as SHALDRIL -- funded by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs -- plans to test cutting-edge shallow drilling technology that can penetrate up to 1000 feet into ancient marine sediment layers left behind by glaciers. The team hopes to extract core samples dating back 35 million years that may help explain the effects of climate change on the evolution of this polar region.
"If it works, it will become the tool of choice for Antarctic exploration for at least the next several decades," said ARF principal investigator Sherwood W. ("Woody") Wise, an FSU geology professor since 1971. "The core samples we obtain with this new technology should prove to be of immense scientific value."
Wise and three colleagues head up the "demonstration cruise" and its intrepid crew of six from FSU -- including an undergraduate student. Also on board will be principal investigators and their students and staff from Rice University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Middlebury College.Â
SHALDRIL's inaugural voyage takes place aboard the decade-old "RV/IB Nathanial B. Palmer," groaning under the weight of its ice-breaking equipment coupled with the new drilling apparatus. Re-fueling from an Argentine vessel will keep the ship and heavy rig balanced throughout the expedition.
The National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs established the Antarctic Research Facility at FSU 40 years ago as a curatorial and research center to house what has become the world's largest collection of Antarctic marine sediment cores.
ARF stores its sediment samples in a 5,000 square-foot refrigerated vault, and maintains a wide variety of equipment to enable visiting investigators to carry out further analyses. An adjunct of FSU's department of Geology, the ARF is one of two national user facilities at FSU, with the other being the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
FSU ARF curator Fred Weaver and assistant curator Matthew Curren will join Wise on the upcoming voyage, along with undergraduate geology student Lindsey Geary, who will graduate from FSU in August 2005, and graduate students Matt Sumner and Wes Ingram.
"After years of planning and anticipation, it all comes to a climax now," said Wise. To follow the progress of the 30-day SHALDRIL mission departing in late-March, visit the ARF Web site at www.arf.fsu.edu for periodic updates from the Antarctic Peninsula.