Ocean Discovery Lecture Series


For over 20 years, the Ocean Discovery Lecture Series (formerly the Distinguished Lecturer Series) has brought the remarkable scientific results and discoveries of the International Ocean Discovery Program and its predecessor programs to academic research institutions, museums, and aquaria. Since 1991, over 1,000 presentations to diverse audiences have been made through the Lecture Series.


For the 2018-19 academic year, an exciting lineup of distinguished lecturers is available to speak at your institution. The topics of their lectures range widely, and include monsoon history, ice sheet dynamics, sediment diagenesis, and more.

The Ocean Discovery Lecturers for the 2019-2020 academic year are:

How plate tectonics drove continental climate change in Australia


Plate tectonics have a strong influence on large scale oceanic circulation, creating basins and altering flow through time.  Despite plate tectonics operating on a very different scale from climate, it is becoming increasingly clear that small and incremental tectonic change can have a major influence on climate. Before the uplift of the Maritime Continent, the Indonesian Throughflow allowed for waters to move easily from the tropical Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Drilling on the northwest margin of Australia (IODP Expedition 356) allowed us to document the timing and impact of restriction of the Indonesian Throughflow in the middle Pliocene.


Analysis of Expedition 356 slope and shelf sediments indicates northwest Australia was humid in the early Pliocene.  The progressive restriction of the Indonesian Throughflow greatly impacted Australian climate, depriving much of the continent of the abundant humidity available earlier.  This shift to a climate similar to the modern began in the mid Pliocene (~3.5 Ma). By ~2.4 Ma, dust records indicate northwest Australia had an arid climate with strong seasonal rains. The restriction also influenced Indian Ocean circulation, with significant changes in the surface and deep waters. Regional changes in the northeast Indian Ocean are coincident with east African climatic shifts and so the restriction may, in turn, have influenced human evolution, as predicted by earlier modeling studies.


Dr. Christensen is Professor and Chair of the Rowan University Department of Environmental Science.  She received her PhD, which focused on Leg 150 sediments, from University of South Carolina. Beth has worked on deep sea sediments ever since, sailing on a total of 4 expeditions (Leg 150, 166, 175 and 356).




  • November 15, 2019 – University of Delaware; Newark, DE
  • January 31, 2020 – University of Texas, Austin; Austin, TX
  • February 3, 2020- Utah State University; Logan, UT
  • February 5, 2020 – College of William and Mary; Williamsburg, VA
  • February 20, 2020 – Wesleyan University; Middletown, CT
  • March 6, 2020 – University of Louisville; Louisville, KY
  • March 26, 2020 – University of New Hampshire; Durham, NH

Life at the edge of what is possible: Microbial biosignatures in the lower oceanic crust



The lower oceanic crust represents one of the last frontiers for biological exploration on Earth. Even if life exists in only a fraction of the habitable volume where temperatures permit and fluid flow can deliver carbon and energy sources, an active lower oceanic crust biosphere would have implications for deep carbon budgets and may yield insights into microbiota that may have existed on early Earth. For subsurface microbiota, the major challenge is obtaining sufficient carbon and energy. Subsurface microbiota and the biogeochemical cycles they mediate are likely linked to deep ocean processes through faulting and subsurface fluid flow. IODP Expedition 360 to the Atlantis Bank Oceanic Core Complex on the SW Indian Ridge, Indian Ocean, presented a unique opportunity to explore the microbiology of the lower oceanic crust which is exposed at the seafloor in ~700m of water, providing unique drilling access to this otherwise largely inaccessible realm. Dr. Edgcomb uses isolation of microorganisms and culture-based studies coupled with molecular approaches and microscopy to reveal the identities, activities, and interactions of subsurface microbial communities.  She has a special interest in marine microbial eukaryotes, and in the role of Fungi in the deep biosphere.


Dr.  Edgcomb will present research from the Indian Ocean lower oceanic crust (IODP Expedition 360, Atlantis Bank) that provides evidence for living/viable microbiota in this challenging habitat from a range of analyses, and insights into metabolic strategies for coping with conditions in this challenging realm, including temporal and spatial heterogeneity in the supply of sources of nutrients and energy. She will touch on comparisons with studies of the marine sedimentary deep biosphere.


Dr. Edgcomb is an Associate Scientist in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Her research focuses on the microbiology of oxygen-depleted and anoxic water columns and sediments, and the deep subsurface biosphere.  She received her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Delaware, and undergraduate degree from University of Virginia. Ginny participated as a shipboard scientist on IODP Expedition 360 to Atlantis Bank, Indian Ocean, and is scheduled to sail on Expedition 385 to Guaymas Basin, Gulf of California, in 2019.



  • March 5, 2020 – Montana Technological University; Butte, MT
  • March 19, 2020 – University of Utah; Salt Lake City, UT
  • April 3, 2020 – Northern Virginia Community College; Annandale, VA
  • April 10, 2020 – University of South Carolina, Columbia; Columbia, SC
  • April 17, 2020 – Lafayette College; Easton, PA
  • April 24, 2020 – University of Texas, Arlington; Arlington, TX
  • May 16, 2020 – Southwest Oregon Community College; Coos Bay, OR


Forecasting slope failure and slide-generated tsunami hazards with IODP data


How common are slide-generated tsunamis?  Historical analysis of tsunami catalogs suggests only 3-9% of all reported tsunamis are generated via submarine landslides or volcanic eruptions. As a result, slide-generate tsunamis are often considered a low-risk geohazard. But is this really true? The December 22nd 2018 Sumatra tsunami generated by sector collapse of Anak Krakatau highlights the importance of understanding these geologic phenomenon.  This presentation begins with a basic primer on landslide tsunami generation and outlines how they differ in character and dynamics from classic earthquake tsunamis. We then discuss three landslide-tsunami case studies that integrate IODP research and datasets. These case studies demonstrate how submarine slides have historically played a more important role in tsunami generation in the Pacific, Caribbean, and North Atlantic than we often realize. The analysis concludes by showing that in some geologic settings, the risk of slide-generated tsunamis is far greater than traditional studies suggest, with regional sedimentation patterns and sediment physical properties likely playing a more important role than tectonics in defining the tsunami hazard.


Matt Hornbach is a Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University. Prior to joining SMU in 2010, Matt was a Research Associate at The University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Geophysics, where he also completed a 2-year postdoc.  He obtained his Ph.D. in Geophysics from the University of Wyoming in 2004 and his undergraduate degree in Physics at Hamilton College in 1998.



  • September 30, 2019 -Trinity University; San Antonio, TX
  • October 17, 2019 – Kansas State University; Manhattan, KS
  • November 7, 2019 – Texas A&M University, Kingsville; Kingsville, TX
  • November 21, 2019 – University of North Dakota; Grand Forks, ND
  • November 22, 2019 – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology; Rapid City, SD


The Chicxulub impact and the resilience of life


Although modern rates of biodiversity loss do not (yet) equal those of the Big Five mass extinctions, we are undeniably living through a significant extinction event. An important question, then, is how long the biosphere will take to recover once negative anthropogenic pressures are finally stopped. The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, caused by the impact of an asteroid on the Yucatán platform in the southern Gulf of Mexico, was probably the only major event in Earth history to happen faster than modern climate change. This impact resulted in the extinction of 75% of species on Earth over a period of, at most, a couple of years. The recovery from this rapid event can be considered an analog for how the biosphere recovers from geologically rapid mass extinctions (including the present one). Once the environmental effects of the impact subsided, life began to recover quickly. Recent drilling in the Chicxulub Crater during IODP Exp. 364 has shown that, even at ground zero, life appeared within a few years, and a healthy high productivity ecosystem was established within 30,000 years. However, the recovery of marine primary productivity (the base of the ocean food chain) was variable across the oceans, with some areas taking much longer to recover than others. On a global scale, even after productivity had returned to normal, species diversity took ~ 10 million years to return to roughly Cretaceous levels. This talk will summarize results from recent IODP drilling in the Chicxulub Crater in the context of the larger contribution of DSDP/ODP/IODP to studies of the K-Pg boundary, focusing on the recovery of life after the extinction and what that means for the recovery of the modern biosphere after the Anthropocene.


Chris Lowery is a Research Associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. He is a foraminiferal micropaleontologist primarily interested in how marine life records and responds to changes in its environment. He is particularly interested in the end Cretaceous mass extinctions and Cretaceous Oceanic Anoxic Events. Chris earned his Masters and PhD at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he worked with Mark Leckie on OAEs in the US Western Interior Sea and Miocene sea level change with cores from ODP Leg 194 on the Marion Plateau. He got his BS from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, where Neil Tibert got him hooked on micropaleontology looking at ostracods from Mono Lake, CA. Chris sailed as a biostratigrapher in IODP Exp. 364 Chicxulub Impact Crater and is lead proponent of 917-Pre Florida Straits Throughflow.



  • October 4, 2019- McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center; Concord, NH
  • October 7, 2019 – Maine Maritime Academy; Castine, ME
  • October 24, 2019 – Jacksonville University; Jacksonville, FL
  • November 20, 2019 – James Madison University; Harrisonburg, VA
  • February 5, 2020 – Missouri University of Science and Technology; Rolla, MO
  • February 13, 2020 – University of Minnesota; Minneapolis, MN
  • April 4, 2020 – Florida State University; Tallahassee, FL


Wanted dead or alive: On the hunt for microbes below the ocean floor



The ocean covers over 70% of the Earth and the sediment and rocks beneath the seafloor is home to one of the larger and most diverse biomes on the planet. We still know very little about the microbes – bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses – that make their home in this environment. The marine subsurface biome has only recently been appreciated as a metabolically active ecosystem, profoundly affecting global elemental cycles. However, they may not all be alive and we need to sort out the living microorganisms from the dead and the ones that are dormant. Due to extreme difficulty in sampling this environment, relatively few locations have been studied in depth and over time. Therefore, the diversity, abundance, energy metabolisms, and active fraction of subsurface organisms have traditionally been poorly constrained. My research uses sequencing to comprehensively survey microbial communities in deeply buried marine environments. Unlike other environments, the deep subsurface provides a unique opportunity to study biogeography across four dimensions. These samples are not only isolated by linear space on a global scale, but they are also temporally isolated by, in some cases, tens of millions of years.


Dr. Reese is an Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She received her Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and was a post-doctoral fellow at the NSF Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations at the University of Southern California. Brandi has worked on deep-sea drilling cores for over 10 years from 7 IODP Expeditions including 316, 321, 325, 329, 336, 347, and 366.



  • November 15, 2019 – Williamette University; Salem, Oregon
  • November 21, 2019 – University of Minnesota, Duluth; Duluth, MN
  • March 9, 2020 – University of Rhode Island; Kingston, RI
  • March 12, 2020 – California State University, Bakersfield; Bakersfield, CA
  • March 26, 2020 – Washington University; St. Louis, MO
  • April 10, 2020 – Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Indiana, PA


Buried alive? How sediments shut down faults in the gulf of Alaska



The interplay of tectonic and surface processes drives many societally relevant processes from seismic hazard at subduction zones to the construction of Earth’s largest mountains. The St. Elias Mountains in southern Alaska are the world’s highest coastal range, host the world’s two largest temperate glaciers and experience the highest recorded offshore sediment accumulation rates globally. Combined with high uplift rates and proximity to one the of the world’s most seismically active margins, the area provides a superb setting for evaluating competing influences of tectonic and surface processes on mountain-building. Before Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 341 in 2013, studies were limited by the absence of information on the time-dependent behavior of glaciers and faults. High precision age constraints from drilling show how fault activity across the offshore St. Elias Mountains varies through space and time. Following an order-of-magnitude increase in sediment accumulation rates at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, when northern hemisphere glaciation transitioned to 100,000 year cycles, previously active faults within the primary glacial depocenters shut down. Core-derived geotechnical analysis of the extent of sediment dewatering shows that the high accumulation rates, along with the increased sediment load, may control the suppression of faulting. This talk will also highlight future opportunities for investigating climate-tectonic interactions along the eastern North Pacific margin via ocean drilling.


Dr. Worthington is an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico. She uses seismology and geophysics to study Earth structure, mountain-building, glacial dynamics and plate boundary fault processes.



  • September 27, 2019 – Colby College; Waterville, ME
  • November 15, 2019 – Oberlin College; Oberlin, OH
  • January 16, 2020 – Rice University; Houston, TX
  • January 17, 2020 – University of Houston; Houston, TX
  • February 20, 2020 – University of Alaska, Anchorage; Anchorage, AK


Host A Lecture


The application period to host a lecturer for the 2019-2020 academic year has closed.


USSSP will work with the lecturers to try to develop broad scheduling priorities for the year. Applicants can expect to hear from lecturers over the summer to initiate the institutional scheduling process. Although every effort will be made to accommodate all requests, in some cases this may not be possible. When necessary, preference will be given to smaller institutions, or to those with a limited history of involvement with IODP.


USSSP will provide support for the lecturer’s travel to your institution, while hosting venues are responsible for housing, meals, and local transportation.



Nominate a Lecturer


Participation of researchers in the USSSP-IODP Ocean Discovery Lecture Series is essential to the program’s goal of bringing scientific results and discoveries to the geoscience community. The nomination period for the 2020-2021 period has closed.



Ocean Discovery Lecturer Specifications


  • Six Ocean Discovery Lecturers are chosen for each academic year.
  • Each Ocean Discovery Lecturer is required to give six lectures during the academic year. Due to the popularity of the program, many lecturers, however, agree to give more.
  • The lecture topic should focus on results of IODP research. Synthesis lectures on broad topics associated with IODP’s scientific objectives (environmental change, processes, and effects; climate change; deep biosphere and the subseafloor ocean; and solid Earth cycles and geodynamics) are strongly encouraged.
  • Lectures should be aimed at a broad geoscience audiences consisting primarily of graduate and undergraduate students and the scientifically literate public.
  • USSSP will fund the speaker’s transportation expenses to and from each institution; host institutions will provide housing, meals, and local transportation for the speaker.
  • After completion of the required lectures, USSSP will provide a small honorarium for the speaker’s participation.



Previous Distinguished Lecturers


Information on current and previous Ocean Discovery Distinguished Lecturers can be found here.