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Professor, students collect seafloor data in Arctic Ocean


Fairbanks, Alaska—Located at the top of the globe, beneath the Arctic Ocean, the Amerasia Basin is poorly understood. This large depression in the ocean floor was created during the Mesozoic Era, the age of the dinosaurs, but how the tectonic plates shifted to open up and create the basin remains a puzzle. Professor Bernard Coakley and a 12-person crew currently aboard the research vessel Marcus G. Langseth hope to find the fossil plate boundaries associated with the basin and recreate the birth of this mysterious feature.

Coakley, a marine geologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, is the chief scientist on the cruise. By email from the ship, Coakley explained how the crew is collecting seismic reflection data on the sedimentary make-up of the seafloor in a specific transect of the ocean. “We already have good information. If things continue as they have so far, we will be able to collect the complete grid I’ve laid out and probably have some time left for additional work.”

UAF undergraduates Emily Decker and Grant Cain and two UAF doctoral candidates, Ibrahim Ilhan and Melissa Johnson, are assisting Coakley on this project. UAF alumnus Dayton Dove is serving as the co-chief scientist on the cruise. The crew work 12-hour shifts and data collection is going well Coakley said the crew is getting along marvelously, despite the close quarters and the repetitive nature of the work.

“‘Groundhog Day’ is a movie people cite for life onboard,” Coakley wrote. “The routine is the same every day. The things you do and when you do them don’t move around very much. Only the data change.”

The research cruise began when the ship, the Marcus G. Langseth, left Dutch Harbor, Alaska Sept. 6. It will run until Oct. 10. During the cruise, Coakley is posting frequent updates from the ship on The New York Times’ blog Scientist at Work. You can read Coakley’s posts at http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/bernard-coakley/.

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