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Scientists meet in Oamaru to discuss results from Canterbury ocean drilling - 14/11/2011

About 40 scientists from nine countries are meeting in Oamaru this week to review results from a scientific ocean drilling expedition that took place off the coast of South Canterbury in early 2010.

Crew of the JOIDES Resolution hold one of the cores drilled off the south Canterbury coast in January 2010. Photo: William Crawford, IODP/TAMU

Crew of the JOIDES Resolution hold one of the cores drilled off the south Canterbury coast in January 2010. Photo: William Crawford, IODP/TAMU

Using the seafloor drilling ship, JOIDES Resolution operated by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), the scientists drilled four sites on the continental shelf off Canterbury and recovered sediment cores going back as far as 35 million years.

The cores have been analysed in detail over the past 22 months and now scientists involved in the expedition are gathering to discuss their findings. The main aim is to learn more about the relationship between climate change and global sea level over the past 35 million years.

Co-chief Scientist on the expedition, Craig Fulthorpe of the University of Texas, said the long record of sea level changes contained in areas such as the Canterbury Basin had the potential to help scientists forecast how sea level might change in response to global warming.

“This ancient record is not easy to read because seafloor sediments are also affected by local tectonic, sedimentary, and oceanographic processes that can obscure the global sea level record,” Dr Fulthorpe said.

“The expedition off the Canterbury coast was designed to untangle those confounding effects.”

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“This ancient record is not easy to read because seafloor sediments are also affected by local tectonic, sedimentary, and oceanographic processes that can obscure the global sea level record”

Dr Craig Fulthorpe

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The Canterbury Basin was ideal for this work because its seafloor sediments record information about climate and sea level in great detail because of the large amount of sediment outwash from the Southern Alps.

Dr Fulthorpe said information from the Canterbury basin would be integrated with drill core analysis from Northern Hemisphere expeditions to provide a better understanding of global trends in sea level over time.

Drilling in the Canterbury Basin also allowed scientists to investigate what happened when the seaway between Australia and Antarctica opened up about 30 million years ago, starting a strong ocean circulation pattern.

The expedition off the Canterbury coast ended up drilling the deepest hole ever drilled by the JOIDES Resolution in a single expedition to a depth of 1927m. The expedition also set a second record when they recovered sediment core from the shallowest water site ever drilled by the same ship.

IODP Drilling Program map