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Breaking ground in Geology

TAMPA, FL. - Jeff Ryan, professor and chair for the College of Arts and Sciences School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida, is embarking on a two-month voyage to study the Earth’s crust in the Izu-Bonin-Mariana trench system, located in the Pacific Ocean.

The International Ocean Discovery Program is an ongoing geology effort for collecting rock samples through ocean drilling. The IODP has conducted two previous trips. This is the third and focuses on subduction zones which occur when two tectonic plates slide beneath one another.

“There aren’t a lot of subduction zones that you can observe on land,” Ryan said. “You can see a lot of phenomena underwater. We’re really discovering the fundamental workings of subduction zones.”

Ryan and fellow scientists from around the globe will be going into the virtually unexplored subduction zones to collect the oldest rocks possible. Subduction zones on land tend to form and collapse very quickly, but underwater the process is much slower and therefore easier to observe. These areas in the IBM are important for geoscience research because they will allow scientists to see the process of these underwater subduction zones and will potentially further understanding of the Earth’s crust.

“We honestly have no idea what we’ll find. This is the closest thing to going to the moon for me,” Ryan said.

The team will be using a large, hollow drill to extract large samples from a 2-mile stretch within the zone. Ryan’s task will be conducting rudimentary tests and analysis on these samples. Once back at USF, Ryan and his students will begin identifying abundances of oxides, almost fingerprinting the rocks.

This research will be the start of work for many students of all levels at USF, who will be able to participate in studying and testing the chemical properties of these new samples. Ryan also will be conducting a webcast for undergraduate students from the boat to give real time updates and lessons.

Ryan, who could not join the first two trips, is excited to get on the boat and get back to focusing science. “I’ve been doing a lot of administrative work, so I’ll be happy to just be on a boat doing science,” Ryan said.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Geology    
Author: Victoria Babcock