Heading off to the Mariana Trench

For the next two months you can follow me here or on the drill ship JOIDES Resolution

Imagine two, 60-mile-thick slabs of rock running into each other. Which gives first and why?

This is what happens when two oceanic plates go head to head, and one must buckle down, or subduct into a trench. In the western Pacific Ocean south of Japan, this is thought to have first occurred 52 million years ago. But scientists don’t really know how subducted ocean plates turn into continental crust millions of years later.

JOIDES Resolution Drill Ship
JOIDES Resolution Drill Ship

“It’s the most important solid Earth process,” says Robert Stern, a geoscience professor who has worked in the region since the 1970s.  “Understanding how this system starts to form is essential to understanding how it operates.”

A trio of two-month expeditions in 2014 will be in the region where the Pacific Plate is descending under the Philippine Plate to form the Mariana Trench and the deepest point in the ocean–the Challenger Deep. Scientists will get under the skin of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc, which stretches nearly the distance from Los Angeles to Chicago. I will be along as a science writer and outreach specialist on this two-month journey in August and September, and help to connect educators worldwide to the ship via live video….

Go to National Geographic’s Ocean Views Blog site to read more