The Azores - the perfect departure point!

June 9, 2010 Friday

Location: Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores
39°30 ′49″N 31°12′24″W

Today we arrived in lovely Ponta Delgada, the starting point for our research cruise on the R/V Knorr. It was cloudy and only in the high 60s, making it much cooler than we expected. After dropping off our gear at the research ship we briefly toured around the countryside of this volcanic island. The geology of the Azores is rather complex as they are situated on a microplate, which should make them a "hot spot" like Hawaii. However they are also along the Mid Atlantic Ridge, like Iceland.

The Azores archipelago got its volcanic start about 7 million years ago. The youngest of the nine islands, Pico, is a mere 300,000 years old, formed during the Pleistocene Epoch - our most recent Ice Age. The Azores seem to have had a relative short history with humans. The most clearly documented evidence of humans starts in the early 1400s by the notably talented sailors, the Portuguese.

Why the Azores?
I keep getting this question from people - it's a great question! Chief Scientist, Dr. Lloyd Keigwin of WHOI proposed this research trek across the Atlantic starting at Ponta Delgada for two main reasons:

1.) A remarkably good core was gathered by a team of French scientists in a region of low relief along the mid-ocean ridge south and west of the Azores. What makes the core so "remarkably good"? The core contained relatively undisturbed sequences of ocean sediments that Keigwin needs in order to learn about Earth's climate and ocean history.

2.) The Azores are also an excellent location because the ocean floor near them has been extensively mapped starting with the 1970s French-American collaborative Project FAMOUS. While little coring has been done in the region, high resolution ocean floor mapping gives researchers like Keigwin a very clear picture of the ocean floor. He is theorizing about the types of ocean floor topography that will lead to the best preserved sediments to maximize the chances of gathering useful samples. Keigwin, along with research funders, want to get the most bang for the buck!

But there's more!

Keigwin just learned several days ago that a German team of scientists also cored in another low relief region along the ridge northeast of the French site, near the Azores. Now scientists are wondering if these regions of low relief are consistently great places to get excellent cores - or if the French and German teams just got lucky.

Check out the "About the Expedition" page for information about the research!

And stay tuned - we depart tomorrow morning!

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