As a kid, Ben Phrampus never imagined going to sea for work. He grew up in Seguin, Texas, near San Antonio, about 150 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. This is his fourth cruise. He’s been offshore the east coast of the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico, and Svalbard.
Ben is on this cruise because he is interested in the heat flow measurements and their interpretation. Although temperature is an important quantity for understanding many processes, research cruises that collect a lot of heat flow data are relatively rare. He says he jumped at the opportunity for this cruise so that he could learn how to make these measurements and how to analyze the data. When you collect the data, there is an intimate connection with the science. This immediacy with data drives Ben’s research. He likes collecting the data and likes writing computer code that generates models used to understand the data. This process is a form of puzzle solving that Ben has always been interested in. Ben’s favorite puzzles as a kid included logic and numbers.
Ben is in his last year of his Ph.D. at Southern Methodist University where he has been studying gas hydrates for his dissertation. Gas hydrates are an ice-like substance where water molecules form a cage around a gas molecule, mostly methane, CH4. In the oceans hydrates are mostly found along continental margins and New Zealand has plenty. The change from the gas phase to the ice-like phase is controlled by temperature and pressure. He computes the pressure from seismic reflection data and the temperature can be estimated from phase relationships, but more directly from heat flow measurements. Ben was involved in identifying gas plumes rising from the seafloor due to the dissociation (melting) of the hydrate. When hydrate melts it releases the trapped gas that can then make it way to up through the seafloor as a bubble. The melting of gas hydrate has been attributed to the warming of the world’s oceans. Ben plans to take the lessons learned from this cruise and apply to his future gas hydrate studies.
Being young, the internet has always been fast for Ben. Not so on a ship. Ben likes escaping his digital presence but also gets frustrated at the slow internet speeds and limited band-width. It’s a double edged sword he says.