Currently in the South Atlantic Ocean, Gail Christeson and Bobby Reece are working side by side as co-principal investigators aboard the Research Vessel Marcus G. Langseth to better understand the formation of oceanic crust from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to the Rio Grande Rise.
This isn’t the first time Christeson, Senior Research Scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), and Reece, Assistant Professor at Texas A&M’s Geology and Geophysics Department, have collaborated. Christeson co-authored several papers with Reece, and was on his dissertation committee during his time at UTIG before he graduated in 2012.
“Working with Gail was a great experience as a student, and being co-PIs on this project just takes that relationship to the next level,” said Reece. “In graduate school, there was mutual respect early on as both Gail and my advisor, Sean Gulick, treated me as a peer and pushed me to contribute actively at workshops. Of course I still learn a great deal from Gail every day, but the tone is different from when I was a student.”
The idea for the current expedition, known as the Crustal Reflectivity Experiment Southern Transect (CREST), was borne out of an International Ocean Discovery Project (IODP) workshop Christeson co-chaired in 2013. Participants brainstormed about science opportunities to take advantage of the upcoming transit the United States-operated drillship JOIDES Resolution will take through the South Atlantic, but were stymied by the lack of site survey data in the region.
Christeson and Reece collaborated on submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to acquire seismic data along a transect to support future drilling and address questions regarding the evolution of ocean crust.
“When the crust is first formed it’s very porous. There are void spaces and tubes, but as minerals are deposited through hydrothermal circulation processes, and sediment is deposited on top the porosity is reduced. By getting continuous data from this expedition we’ll be able to look at the evolution of the crust as it ages,” says Christeson. “Ultimately this expedition is part of a site survey that will be complemented by drilling in 2018 or 2019. We believe the seismic data gathered on this trip will help accomplish that goal.”
The NSF-funded CREST expedition has imaged with a modern seismic system the longest-ever continuous transect of oceanic crust at approximately 1,500 kilometers. The expedition also marks the first time a group of scientists have used a 12.5-kilometer long streamer that was recently purchased by NSF for the scientific community.
To add another layer of familiarity to the expedition, Texas A&M Regents Professor Richard L. Carlson is serving as the co-principal investigator on land. Christeson took undergraduate courses from Carlson when she was getting her Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University. UTIG postdoctoral fellow Stacey Worman is also assisting on CREST, which began in early January and will reach its conclusion on February 25.
“This expedition goes right down the family tree and we’re all very excited to be working together again,” said Christeson. “UTIG was founded with a focus on marine research, and the institute prides itself on providing students with large amounts of experience in the field. It’s great to see Bobby’s hard work pay off as the institute continues to prepare the next generation of scientists.”
Thus far, all has gone according to plan and the scientists are looking forward to returning to their respective research facilities and delving into the data they’ve been gathering over the past seven weeks.
“Very few programs do as good a job as UTIG at training students to understand and perform in each part of the scientific process,” said Reece. “This being my first expedition as a principal investigator, I probably should have been more nervous. Instead I felt exceptionally well-prepared and confident. I’ve been trained by the best in the business.”
For more on the research expedition and updates on its whereabouts, check out the expedition blog, CrestFest.