Sediments eroded from the Himalayas during their 50 million years of uplift have largely been carried out to sea and deposited in great cone-shaped piles to the east and west of the Indian subcontinent. The Bengal Fan, the deposit fed by the modern Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, is by far the larger of these sediment accumulations. In the winter of 2015, I sailed on International Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 354 to sample these sediments. We collected cores from a transect across the middle of the Bengal Fan to track the flow of detritus from the rising Himalayas to its ultimate resting place in the Bay of Bengal. Questions that the scientists on Expedition 354 are interested in answering include:
- How has the rate of sediment flow changed through geologic time?
- Has the source of the sediment changed as the mountains rose?
- How has the sedimentation changed in response to changes in climate? And how has the region’s climate changed in response to the uplift of the mountains? (And: how have changes in climate affected the uplift of the mountains themselves?)
- How do sediments spread themselves out over the massive fan deposit?
- Do rapid sedimentation events (turbidites) indicate storms? Earthquakes?
Over the next two to three years, I will be looking for student partners to help me address some of the questions above using the magnetic mineralogy and magnetic properties of Expedition 354 sediment samples. Magnetic minerals, for example, can help distinguish between sources of sediments. Because they are sensitive to chemical weathering, magnetic minerals may allow us to examine changes in climate over geological time. Magnetic properties of sediments can even allow us to study the physics of turbidity currents that carry sediment down the fan. As a student involved in this project, I expect you to become familiar enough with marine geology and rock magnetism to carve out part of this project that you can do yourself. Ultimately, you will gain a deep enough understanding of rock magnetic techniques to be able to collect, analyze, and interpret your own data, and to present your own findings on part of this project. High-quality research will contribute to a peer-reviewed publication and presentations at national conferences (meaning that you may have a chance to participate in a conference, and you will be a co-author on the presentation).