Friday 11 March 2016 9:55am
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) drillship JOIDES Resolution.
Christian has just returned from two months on the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) drillship JOIDES Resolution, where 50 scientists from seven nations worked to unlock 53 million year-old records of ocean chemistry, biology and global climate, pulled up from the ocean floor.
At Otago, Christian's research uses paleomagnetic methods to address climate change, and his role on the Pacific Equator expedition was to determine the age of the sediment cores by identifying the changes in magnetic polarity, using a sophisticated cryogenic magnetometer.
"By studying these sediments we can see the global climate engine in action," he says. "We can also see the effect that high carbon dioxide levels and warmer climate have on the biological systems."
Otago was an inaugural member of the Australia and New Zealand IODP Consortium and Christian is the country's first participant in the programme since New Zealand joined in 2008.
Two months of drilling at six locations between Hawaii and San Diego recovered sediment from the early Eocene "super-greenhouse" (50 million years ago) and through the Eocene-Oligocene transition (34 million years ago) when the globe cooled dramatically and major ice sheets first grew in Antarctica.
"It was an amazing experience. In a single 12-hour shift I would identify magnetic reversals accounting for many millions of years in the sedimentary record," Christian says. "There was little time for rest. Coring was a 24-hour operation and every few hours new core on deck meant new discoveries."
Christian's supervisor, Professor Gary Wilson, says the multidisciplinary approach of the programme is what makes it so exciting.
"The boat has 20, 30 or more scientists working on the same problem at the same time using 20 or 30 different approaches. So it's a fantastic experience for integrated multidisciplinary science. And that's the way you really solve some of these big problems - multiple approaches and state of the art technology."
"It's really the springboard to a potential future career that allows them to work with top class international scientists and the opportunity to develop links and contacts that will lead to their future postdoctoral or teaching or even industry employment," he says.
Gary helped establish New Zealand as a member of the IODP and is a member of the Australian-New Zealand IODP Science Committee.
He says New Zealand's involvement in the programme not only allows access to samples and data from research journeys, but more importantly it can influence future efforts towards issues New Zealanders are interested in. And Otago's involvement gets students in at the coalface of research.
"Other universities are involved in this programme, but Otago has its own research vessel that allows students to get out into the marine environment and be trained in that environment. That opportunity is not widely available anywhere else in New Zealand."
Christian currently studies part-time on his PhD and works in Gary's paleomagnetism laboratory, which was designed specifically to use magnetics to solve problems of understanding climate in the past.
With a price tag nearing $1million, the laboratory is one of a handful in the world and is typical of Otago's efforts to stay at the forefront of research, says Gary.
Postgraduate students at the University play a very real role in the research programmes they are involved in. "Christian and I are really more collaborators than we are supervisor and student. I help with the direction from time to time, but we tend to work together on science problems. He really has both feet in the pond, so to speak, and experiences the research first hand. This really is learning at the coalface."