Drilling and Discovery in the Bay of Bengal


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As I look out my window, I can see the 66-meter tall derrick and the drill string slowly rotating. We have been drilling continuously for the past three days and retrieving meter upon meter of sediment cores. At first glance, the drill string appears to be moving up and down, but in fact it isn’t – we are the ones moving up and down. We’re in the Indian Ocean aboard the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific drilling ship operating for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

IODP is a collaborative marine research program involving more than 25 member countries, including Canada. The program dates back to the 1960’s, when it was the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP), then the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), and later the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), which are among the most productive science programs ever conducted. The program uses multiple drilling platforms and cutting-edge technology to explore Earth's history, structure and evolution recorded in subseafloor sediments and rocks.

On this expedition (IODP Exp. 354: Bengal Fan), we are investigating the connections between mountain formation and climate. The mountains we’re studying are the highest on Earth – the Himalaya. But we’ll be studying them at the bottom of the ocean, in the Bay of Bengal, by looking at eroded sediment. These small fragments of the Himalaya get washed into mighty rivers and carried to the sea. The outflow and deposition of this sediment on the seafloor creates the Bengal Fan, the largest submarine fan in the world. These ancient sediments hold important clues about the nature and timing of India’s collision with Asia, the subsequent uplift and erosion of the Himalaya, and the development and intensity of the Asian monsoon.

I never thought I would get the chance to sail on the JOIDES Resolution. Ever since I started using IODP samples and data in my research on ocean island volcanoes, I have been fascinated with scientific ocean drilling. As the Scientific Coordinator for IODP-Canada, I was lucky enough to tour the ship twice, during port calls in Victoria BC. And now, here I am, with this incredible floating laboratory as my home for two months.

Although a geochemist by training, I’m sailing as an Education Officer. This means it’s my job to communicate the onboard science to students, educators, researchers and other audiences around the world. In addition to live video broadcasts with schools and museums, I’m observing the entire core flow process, shadowing the scientists on each team, and unearthing informative yet engaging features for our social media networks. I’m grateful for this once in a lifetime experience to document and communicate this journey of drilling and discovery in the Bay of Bengal.

Diane Hanano is a geochemist by training and now focuses on science management, communications and outreach for the Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, the Multidisciplinary Applied Geochemistry Network and the International Ocean Discovery Program - Canada. She is currently sailing onboard the JOIDES Resolution as an Education Officer for IODP Expedition 354: Bengal Fan in the Indian Ocean.

Views expressed in blog posts reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the CFES.

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