Interview with Juergen Koepke, Co-Chief Scientist

Slackjaw Sally here with Dr. Jürgen Koepke, one of the co-chief scientists on this cruise. He is a geology professor at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. Jürgen has kindly offered to answer a few questions.

How did Dr. Koepke become interested in geology at sea? He started by studying geology on land with an emphasis on former ocean lithosphere called ophiolite. An ophiolite is part of Earth’s oceanic crust and some of the upper mantle that was uplifted and exposed above sea level when it collided with the edge of a continental plate. Dr. Koepke said it’s easier to make models of seafloor spreading from ophiolites because they are on land and much more accessible. A desire to compare his models to oceanic crust on the ocean floor led him to geology at sea. On this trip he hopes to gather gabbro. They are from the lower part of the ocean crust and are key to understanding how ocean crust is formed.


What does Dr. Koepke like most about going to sea? It’s very exciting! It’s like solving a puzzle, starting with a white map and filling in the details. He feels lucky to have this profession and privileged to have the opportunity to follow questions and participate in exciting operations, using Sentry to make high quality maps and dredging to collect rocks from unexplored areas. The downside of being away from home for long periods of time is that the work continues to pile up there. He does respond quickly to questions from his students by email, but there are responsibilities that require him to be present and those must wait for his return.

How did Dr. Koepke get involved in international projects? For about fifty years, the International Ocean Drilling Project (IODP) has been a platform for research in the oceans. No single country could afford to set this up without collaboration, and so it is funded by many countries, primarily the United States, Japan and an European Consortium. Dr. Koepke is also involved in the ICDP Oman drilling project to study gabbros from Oman ophiolites. He met Dr. Henry Dick on one of the IODP cruises and they realized that their work was complimentary and that they could both benefit by working together. They’ve met twice a year to plan this 2-leg expedition. I’m on the first leg on an American ship, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson; the second leg will be on a German ship, the R/V Sonne. Working together lets both groups get twice as much time at sea and generates a synergy from the collaboration. It expands their areas of interest and adds insight into their own fields.

So how did Dr. Koepke decide to become a geologist in the first place? There was not much geoscience in his public schooling. He heard about geology when he was deciding whether to get a job or study at university. He was very interested in mathematics and physics and geoscience was a good way to combine these skills, so he decided to go to university. He enjoyed the interaction with his professors and the emphasis on microscopy. He continues to emphasize the use of microscopes in a course he teaches called Geodynamics of Mid-ocean Ridges. For Dr. Koepke, seeing the thin sections through a microscope gives insight into the mysteries of how the rock was formed. He can’t wait to get a sample from Marion Rise, make a thin slice and take a look!

4 cm long thin section of one of Jürgen’s gabbros from Oman. (Grey grains are plagioclase crystals; the brightly coloured grains are olivine and clinopyroxene crystals.

4 cm long thin section of one of Jürgen’s gabbros from Oman. (Grey grains are plagioclase crystals; the brightly coloured grains are olivine and clinopyroxene crystals.