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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Professor Dives Deep in Pacific

This August, 115 scientists, technicians and crew members from all over the world will depart from Yokohama, Japan for a two-month-long ocean drilling expedition in the west Pacific Ocean.

And Timothy Bralower, UNC professor and chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences, will co-chair the expedition.

Bralower and two UNC graduate students will join the international team of 50 scientists and technicians and 65 crew members in examining sedimentary rocks that are 50 million to 120 million years old. Bralower and company will drill the ancient samples from a large Pacific Ocean plateau known as Shatsky Rise. Information from the expedition will be compiled to create maps depicting the ancient climates of different ocean basins.

Ultimately, through chemical and paleontological analyses of the deep-sea sediment, scientists hope to determine the climate history of ancient Earth as well as causes and consequences of ancient global warming patterns. "These will be very intense operations," Bralower said. "You have to take a whole different mentality."

Bralower said the expedition is a "cruise" unlike any other. The members will work in 12-hour shifts, seven days a week for eight weeks on a drill ship named the Resolution. Members will be able to pass the time on the ship's movie theater, gym or library.

Bralower, who has been on three other ocean drilling cruises, said time on the ship goes by quickly because of the busy activity. He said the procedures are demanding and exhausting.

The proposal was presented to the Ocean Drilling Program of the National Science Foundation in 1998.

After two years of extensive review, the NSF approved the Resolution's 2001 endeavor. The entire project will cost about $12 million. The NSF will fund half of the cost, while the other seven participating countries will contribute the rest.

Debbie Thomas, one of the 10 total students on board, has been looking forward to this opportunity since she entered the paleoceanography field six years ago.

The expedition will help Thomas further her own research into deep sea sediments. "(The experience) will carry me far past my dissertation," she said. "This is a stepping stone in my career."

When Bralower returns, he hopes to use the experiences and knowledge gained from the project to enrich his geology classes. "The journey will definitely add more color to my classes," he said.

After a demanding two months at sea, the Resolution will dock in Honolulu. Bralower is especially looking forward to this much anticipated reprieve. "You can bet I will be sitting on the beach sipping my mai-tais for a long while."

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