Graduate student studies monsoons aboard drilling ship

Sebastian Vega

Kaustubh Thirumalai, geological sciences graduate student, was selected to research alongside 30 international scientists aboard a scientific drilling vessel.

Thirumalai began his expedition in India on Saturday to study the development of monsoons. The expedition will last until Jan. 29. Thirumalai, originally from Bangalore, India, grew up experiencing monsoons and said his adviser encouraged him to apply for the research expedition.

“The application process for [an International Ocean Discovery Program] expedition is a competitive one,” Thirumalai said in an email. “Essentially, you have to propose some scientific endeavor that is in-line directly (or indirectly) with the expeditions’ objectives.”

According to Thirumalai, the research will focus on testing sediment to predict future climate changes. Thirumalai said the expedition is titled Indian Monsoon Rainfall and its main goal is to collect sediments in the Bay of Bengal.

“The Indian monsoon is a very important climate phenomenon and many people (~billions) directly depend on it for their livelihood,” Thirumalai said. “Ultimately, the goal of the expedition is to understand how rainfall varied over the Indian subcontinent so we can better understand how drastically that climatic system is capable of changing, so we can better inform ourselves and anticipate future changes.”

Thirumalai’s job as a sedimentologist will be to study any sediments brought onto the ship. He said he will make detailed reports about the sediment that is collected through their drilling.

“My job will be to examine, inspect and characterize the cores as they come on deck,” Thirumalai said. “I will be looking into the type of sediment that we collect and will be  describing the characteristics of the mud, its age, its color, its makeup and so on.” 

Despite dramatic weather shifts, the drilling ship, called the JOIDES Resolution, should be safe throughout its expedition, Thirumalai said.  

“Since cyclone season is over, we should be pretty safe,” Thurmalai said. “Also, there aren’t any notorious instances of piracy or thievery amidst the Bay of Bengal, so it should be relatively safe. Although, I hope there are no big Indian Ocean earthquakes when we are out at sea!”