Mexican scientists to delve into Earth’s secrets

The expedition in the Guaymas Basin, located in the Gulf of California, will extract more information about Earth's history and its evolution

Mexican scientists to delve into Earth’s deepest secrets
The Joides Resolution vessel is 143 meters long and can excavate up to 8,235 meters deep – Photo: taken from JOIDES Resolution’s Facebook account
English 24/09/2019 17:54 Leonardo Domínguez Mexico City Actualizada 18:12
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Three Mexicans will participate in a scientific expedition in the Guaymas Basin, located in the Gulf of California, to extract, from over 2,000 meters deep, the most ancient “books” of the planet: underground sediments, that will allow obtaining more information about the history of the Earth and its evolution.

On September 21, the investigation vessel JOIDES Resolution of the International Program for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) sailed to this sanctuary.

The expedition is made up of 33 scientists from nine countries who will study, for 60 days, the tectonics, the carbon cycle, and the microscopic life of this basin.

The scientists representing Mexico are Manet Estefanía Peña, from the Autonomous University of Baja California; Ligia Pérez Cruz, of the Geophysics Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Florian Neumann, from the Scientific and Higher Education Investigation Center of Ensenada.

“The Gulf of California is the youngest basin in the whole world, of approximately 5 million years old, and also one of the most productive. Here, just in the center, is the Guaymas Basin, which is a system in expansion, where the Pacific and North American plates separate, and a new seabed is developing: hence the relevance of doing research in the region,” asserts Pérez Cruz.

Researchers want to decode a series of geological phenomena taking place in the depths of the sea. Manet Peña describes that the subsoil of the Gulf of California is breaking; the rupture causes magma to emerge from the center of the Earth, but once it touches seawater it cools down, creating a new seabed.

“By drilling the subsoil we will obtain geological registries, rocks or sediments, that tell us about the evolution of our planet (…) It’s like obtaining books from thousands of millions ago, depending on the extension of the drills, that tell us what happened on Earth, “ says Pérez Cruz.

Joides Resolution has an oil rig because the technique to extract the sediments is similar to the one used for the search and exploitation of fossil fuels.

The vessel, of 143 meters longs, excavates up to 8,235 meters under the sea. The crew will drill the Guaymas Basin in six key places, in a sequence of sediments of different ages and temperatures to explore the physical and chemical gradients.

Science with an impact. Manet Peña explains that the generation of a new seabed “tells us our Earth's dynamic, that we have a tectonicaly active basin.” She highlights that part of this research will allow a better understanding of “the location of Mexico, how are the plates in which we are located, this will help us, in the future, to better plan our cities.”

In addition, scientists have identified that magma intrusions in the Guaymas Basin created big thermic and chemical gradients in the subsoil that are rich in energy. This phenomenon also releases energy, carbon dioxide, and methane.

“It is posed that, probably, in the sediments of the Gulf, there is a great amount of geothermic energy, which could be used at some point. This is not the objective of the project, but there are experts [in the crew] who will measure the heat flow, pressures, and temperature.

“This knowledge will be the base to solve some of the problems we will face in matters of energy,” says Ligia Pérez.

One of the researchers is Mexican Florian Neumann, who will focus on the thermal state of the crust, measure the heat flow in the Gulf, and study gamma rays. “I’m interested in all the characteristics of the sediment, the density, and connectivity,” he says.

He stresses that this kind of basic science research also generates an impact in society: “We are going to create heat flow maps and in this way, the geothermal potential of the region will be calculated. In addition, we will try to identify how much carbon is contained in the basin. We will make the studies available in case authorities of the energy sector decide to take advantage of them.”

A look toward climate change. Each sediment extracted by the scientists will be another piece to solve the intricate puzzle of Earth's climate history, According to the IODP, the sediments “reveal how much ice existed in the world and suggest past climate patterns. These cores will give us a glimpse of ancient temperatures and will allow us to preserve small bubbles of the atmosphere from the past.”

The expedition will allow collecting paleoclimate evidence. In 2004, this organization recovered samples from the Arctic Ocean’s seabed, which revealed that 55 million years ago it had a subtropical climate.

“Scientists continue with the analysis of these discoveries to better understand how ecosystems will respond to future global warming.

“Through paleosensors we can piece things together, reconstruct what happened on the continent and its atmosphere. The interest in creating multinationals projects is for us to gather all the possible techniques and skills to register a more comprehensive history of climate evolution,” describes Ligia Pérez. For the UNAM researcher, this data will be very valuable for, with it, weather prediction models would be generated.

IODP is funded, mainly, by the U.S. National Foundation of Sciences, Japan’s Education, Culture and Science Ministry, as well as the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling.

Usually, only member countries of the program take place in the expeditions, to which Mexico does not belong due to economic issues; nevertheless, since it takes place in Mexican territory, the three national researchers were invited to the adventure.


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