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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Polar scientists will reveal 50 million years of climate history

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Narragansett, R.I. -- July 29, 2004 -- Three icebreakers will carry an international team of scientists to the Arctic Ocean on August 8 to study its geological history. The chief scientists on this groundbreaking expedition are Dr. Kate Moran of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) and Dr. Jan Backman of Stockholm University in Sweden.

Other University of Rhode Island oceanographers taking part in the expedition are geologists Dr. John Farrell and Matthew OíRegan and microbiologist Dr. David Smith. In addition, Kathy Couchon, a middle-school teacher from Narragansett, Rhode Island, will participate in the expedition as part of the ARMADA Project, a research and mentoring program for teachers based at URI/GSO.

The primary objective of the Arctic Coring Expedition (ACEX) is to drill several hundred meters into the sediments of the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain chain. This operation is the most ambitious of its kind ever attempted in such a hostile environment.

By analyzing samples from the 500-meter-thick sediment on top of the ridge, scientists will reconstruct the climatic and environmental history of the Arctic over the past 50 million years. The Arctic plays a fundamental role in regulating the planetís climate, and scientists hope to gain significant information about ancient climate which may provide insight into the effects of future climate change.

Climate change is vigorously debated among scientists. The ACEX team will make a valuable contribution to the discussion by revealing the long-term history of Arctic sea ice.

The Lomonosov Ridge lies approximately 1000 meters under the sea-surface, 250 kilometers from the North Pole. The expedition will last six weeks, and analysis of the core samples will begin in November at Bremen University in Germany.

The three icebreakers include the Swedish- registered Vidar Viking, which will serve as the coring vessel, the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which will serve as a "protection shield" as well as the operational headquarters, and the Russian icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, which will be the main icebreaker. Because the Arctic weather and ice conditions can be very harsh, the challenge for the icebreakers is to keep the vessel-mounted rig stationary while retrieving cores from the seabed below.

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is an international research program that explores the history and structure of the Earth as recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks. IODP builds upon the earlier successes of the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), which revolutionized our view of Earth history and global processes through ocean basin exploration. IODP greatly expands the reach of these previous programs by using multiple drilling vessels, including riser, riserless, and mission-specific platforms, to achieve its scientific goals.

Information about the ACEX can be found at the expedition web site including a logbook with reports and pictures.