The ocean and its crust can tell us so much about our past and future, and an upcoming drilling expedition has a mission to uncover just that.
Victoria Hojnacki, a sedimentologist and doctoral student in the Environmental Science and Management program at Montclair State University, is one of 52 international scientists selected by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) to sail on a deep-sea drilling vessel that will explore how physical, chemical and biological changes to the ocean crust can both record and influence long-term changes in ocean and planetary conditions.
The IODP’s South Atlantic Transect scientific drilling project comprises two expeditions that will investigate the western flank of the southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge near Cape Town, South Africa, between April 7 and June 7, and June 7 to August 7, respectively.
The expeditions will recover deep geologic core samples from six sites on 7-, 15-, 31-, 49-, and 61-million-year-old ocean crust that formed on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and have been transported progressively west as a result of seafloor spreading from the mid-ocean ridge.
The goal of this effort is to investigate the history of hydrothermal interactions between the cooling ocean crust and the overlying ocean, the presence, diversity and activities of microbial communities that live deep beneath the seafloor, and recover sediment records of climate change and ocean circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean.
“An expedition of this nature is not something I thought I would have the opportunity to participate in while still in graduate school, so it’s special and I am thankful for the support from Montclair State University,” says Hojnacki. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and work with all the other scientists sailing on this expedition.”
Hojnacki’s doctoral dissertation research investigates the effects of Antarctic ice growth on ocean circulation in the South Atlantic using geological archives. She is currently working with Professor Sandra Passchier in the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies as a research assistant on a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
For the project, Hojnacki has been working on the geochemistry and scanning electron microscopy of ocean sediments from the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, with the goal of better understanding the development of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and changes in ocean conditions at the Eocene-Oligocene transition.
“This time period was a transition from greenhouse to icehouse conditions and a period of paleoclimate variability,” says Hojnacki. “Understanding the behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in this climate transition can help provide context for changing conditions today.”
Participation in this IODP expedition will allow Hojnacki to expand her research skills and to work collaboratively with an international team of scientists.
“The students in our Environmental Science and Management doctoral program are amazing scientists working to solve the world’s toughest questions,” says Lora Billings, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “The international team of top scientists on the JOIDES are committed to understanding climate change and Ms. Hojnacki is ready to discover the deep sea’s buried secrets with them.”
For more information on Earth and Environmental Studies at Montclair, visit montclair.edu/earth-and-environmental-studies.