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Fieldwork

Marion Dufresne Coring in Chesapeake Bay

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Marion Dufresne docked in Quebec City
The Marion Dufresne docked in Quebec City, Canada, at the end of Leg 1 of its 3-month, 5-leg cruise.
The USGS, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Maryland Geological Survey (MGS) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently combined resources to investigate the Holocene paleoclimate and ecosystem history, methano-genesis, and geological evolution of the modern Chesapeake Bay by taking an expanded look at its sedimentary record (see Cronin et al., May 25, 1999, EOS, 80(21), for more background). To do this, they joined forces with the International Marine Global Change Study (IMAGES), a multi-nation program whose primary mission is to understand the role of the oceans in global climate change. IMAGES is a part of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) Project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

From June to September, 1999, IMAGES is sponsoring a large part of an oceanographic cruise by the French coring ship the Marion Dufresne in the Caribbean, North Atlantic, Nordic, and adjacent seas. As part of this larger effort, the U.S. consortium sponsored a portion of the cruise to collect long sediment cores in Chesapeake Bay.

Sediment coring in the Chesapeake took place on June 20-22, 1999. A group of 18 U.S. scientists boarded the ship from a launch out of Cape Henry, Virginia, in rough seas. This group included principal investigators Tom Cronin (USGS-Reston), Steve Colman (USGS-WHFC), Jeff Halka (MGS), and Peter Vogt (NRL). Other USGS participants included John Bratton and Pattie Baucom (WHFC), Debra Willard, Scott Ishman, Lisa Weimer, Robert Wagner, Tom Sheehan, and Andrew Fagenholtz (Reston), and Diane Minasian (Menlo Park). Other U.S. scientists came from NRL, MGS, the University of Rhode Island (URI), and the University of South Carolina. Operations Chief Yvon Balut directed the Marion Dufresne coring crew, and co-chief scientist, Elisabeth Michel, and the U.S. principal investigators supervised the U.S and international scientific staff.

Seven members of the U.S. Chesapeake team remained on the ship until a port call in Quebec City, Canada, on June 29, to continue processing Chesapeake cores and assist with other Holocene coring operations off New Jersey and in the St. Lawrence River.

John Polman and Calypso piston corer
John Polman (Naval Research Laboratory) looks on as the giant Calypso piston corer is lowered into Chesapeake Bay.
The team used a giant piston corer to recover the longest continuous sediment cores ever taken in Chesapeake Bay for scientific research. Six cores were obtained recovering about 7000 cm of mainly Holocene sediment. The longest recovered core contained 20.7 m of sediment! The sediment sampled was Cape Charles paleo-channel fill from the mid-bay near the Potomac River mouth, the Parker Creek-Calvert Cliffs area, and the Rhode River area. These cores are currently being analyzed by groups working on physical parameters, sedimentary geochemisty, micropaleontology, methane content, radiometric dating, paleomagnetic properties, and stratigraphy.

Previous stratigraphic investigations of Chesapeake Bay have been hampered by the limitations of piston and other coring methods. With the exception of a 7.5-m-long Mackereth core taken off the Rhode River in 1998 by Steve Colman and John King (URI), prior piston coring has only recovered the upper 450 cm of bay sediments. Depending on the sediment accumulation rate and erosional history at any particular site, this interval typically represents only the last 2000 years. Thus, coring by the Marion Dufresne (length 120 m, draft 7 m) also allowed the testing of the potential of the giant piston corer, typically used in deep and mid-depth oceanic sediments, to recover relatively long sedimentary records in extremely shallow-water environments.


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