Scientists Launch Ocean Expedition to Study Climate Change and Mountain Building in Gulf of Alaska

May 29, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas —

JOIDES Resolution

The scientific drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution, pictured here, will sail to the Gulf of Alaska this summer to study the interaction of climate, tectonics, and mountain building processes in the mountain ranges of southern Alaska.

An international team of 34 scientists sets sail today aboard the scientific ocean drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution to collect sediments in the Gulf of Alaska and investigate the interactions between long-term global climate change and the simultaneous growth of mountain belts. The team is co-led by Sean Gulick, research associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, and John Jaeger, associate professor at The University of Florida.

The public can follow the expedition on Facebook and Twitter, or through real-time blog posts by Alison Mote, a high school science teacher from Austin traveling aboard the ship.

Because glaciers can erode and transport large amounts of rock, they can dramatically alter a landscape. Also, by rapidly decreasing the overall mass of rock in the areas they scour, they can affect the forces that create mountain ranges.

“Mountains grow when numerous faults thrust layers of rock on top of each other,” Gulick explains. “Therefore, it’s intuitive to ask whether this action by faults increases in locations with lots of erosion, such as under Alaskan glaciers.”

“The mountains of southern Alaska have the perfect combination of large glaciers and rapidly uplifting mountains to test these ideas,” Jaeger says. “Plus, we know very little about the long-term history of these glaciers, especially relative to what we know about other large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.”

Other goals of the expedition include gaining a better understanding of the timing of the advance and retreat of the Northern Cordilleran Ice Sheet relative to other global ice sheets, obtaining a record of magnetic field reversals in the Gulf of Alaska, and taking a look at ocean circulation dynamics and their effect on the carbon cycle during transitions into and out of ice ages.

Mount St. Elias

Mount St. Elias straddles the border between Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory. The Malaspina Glacier, visible in the foreground, is a piedmont glacier that spreads out over the land as it reaches lower elevation. (Image Credit: John Jaeger)

The expedition is part of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), an international research program dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of the Earth through drilling, coring and monitoring the subseafloor. Two lead agencies support IODP: the U.S. National Science Foundation and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

The JOIDES Resolution is a scientific research vessel managed by Texas A&M University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. The ship sets sail from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, on May 29, and operations conclude July 29.

“Thousands of tourists sail through the Gulf of Alaska each year to see the dramatic landscapes created by these glaciers,” Jaeger says. “We hope that findings from our expedition can provide them with a sense of just how dynamic that landscape truly is.”

For more information about IODP Expedition 341 (Southern Alaska Margin Tectonics, Climate and Sedimentation), visit http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/expeditions/alaska_tectonics_climate.html

For more information, contact: Marc Airhart, College of Natural Sciences, 512 232 1066.