Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Researcher Profile: Sam Bentley

I am a marine sedimentologist, at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Marine sedimentology is the study of sediments on the seafloor, and more specifically I study mud (my kids once gave me a tee-shirt labelled with “Mud Cowboy”). Sediments deposited on the seafloor carry the environmental history of how those sediments were carried to their oceanic resting place, and also provide a home for organisms living on and in the seabed. So, from studying seafloor sediments we can learn both about the history of seafloor ecosystems and also about how geological processes, like sediment transport by currents for example, control the quality and extent of seafloor habitats. I think that mud is much more interesting to study than sand, gravel, or rock, because mud particles carry chemical clues to age and origin that one cannot find in sand or gravel. The work is fun, challenging, and very interesting, sort of like being an “ecosystem detective.” To study these habitats, we map the ocean floor with sonar, and sample the sediments. We can then analyze and age-date the sediments, allowing us to learn about relative physical stability or change in the habitat. On this cruise, we are mapping the seabed using a very sophisticated sonar system mounted on ROPOS, giving us highly detailed 3-D maps of the seabed. We are also collecting rock samples (on hard seabed, using the manipulators of ROPOS) and mud core samples (on soft seabed, using either ROPOS or a device called a multicorer, lowered from the ship). Analysis of these maps and samples will help us about geological and physical processes that occur on the seabed, and influence the organisms that live there.