Professor to join drilling project in Alaska

Chelsey Fisher

After about 10 years of waiting, Ellen Cowan, a professor in the geology department will join 31 scientists from around the world May 30, 2013 to study climate and tectonic changes in southern Alaska.

The team will drill in the abyssal plain, the fan and the continental shelf in Alaska.

Cowan will observe the sedimentary record in the core as it is drilled, identify the sediment and make a graphic image, she said.

The project was proposed around 10 years ago. Since Cowan has worked her whole career in Alaska, she was part of the original team, she said.

“I’m really excited that I get to participate,” Cowan said. “It’s worth waiting for, I just know, but it’s been a long time to get our project to be picked.”

Of the 31 scientists working with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, 12 are from the United States.

The expedition will leave from Victoria, British Columbia on the JOIDES Resolution and stay in the southern gulf of Alaska, near Saint Elias mountains, for two months, where the team will work 24-hours a day, taking turns of 12-hour shifts.

In 1971, a team drilled into the southern Alaska’s ocean, but only revealed 40 percent of the record, Cowan said.

“We think we can 100 percent,” she said. “So we’re pretty optimistic.”

Before leaving the ship, the team must compile a book of their findings, Cowan said.

Then, every scientist will do follow-up research, from which they’ll form their conclusions.

Cowan said she plans to write a research proposal grant and work with students on analyzing the data that’s collected.

Junior theater arts major Pami Cuevas took an oceanography class with Cowan.

Cuevas said the class was “very intriguing and interesting.”

Cuevas said she thinks it’s a “wonderful opportunity” that Cowan gets to go to Alaska.

Sophomore accounting major Kyle Brown also had Cowan for a class.

Brown said Cowan’s experiences “added another layer of depth to” the class’ discussion.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for her to get out there and learn her craft, so to speak,” Brown said. “There’s no better way to learn about something that getting out there and doing it and I see that that’s exactly what she is doing.”

Story: KELLI STRAKA, News Reporter