The exploits of an ocean research team fascinate a Titirangi family and other Aucklanders, writes Gia Dumo.
Silence envelops the Oceans Gallery in Auckland's War Memorial Museum. Fish and plaster casts of fish are suspended in mid-swim from the walls of the virtual undersea world. In the foyer about a dozen children and parents sit just as still, their eyes trained on a screen mounted high on the wall.
This is a typical scene at the Ship to Shore talks, one of five Monday sessions during which scientists, on a two-month expedition to study deep Earth, use Skype to discuss their findings and experiences with the public.
Speaking from mid-ocean aboard the cutting-edge research vessel Joides Resolution, the scientists have everyone's attention.
"What are you trying to do?" a kid asks.
"We are studying a series of lava flows from 75 million years ago," replies a scientist, holding up some of the samples to the camera.
"How far down do you have to dig before you find anything?" questions another child.
"We are hoping to go down as far as 300 to 400m deep," the scientist Skypes back.
"Do the scientists get any time off and did you have any off for Christmas?"
At this point, the audience hears first-hand what the scientists do during their 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. They discover that, because the expedition sailed from Auckland on December 17, the scientists had little time for relaxing but did celebrate Christmas and New Year.
Apart from the crew, marine and drilling specialists, there are about 50 scientists and technicians on the ship. It is one of two drill ships operated by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, touted as the world's largest multinational geoscience programme.
It aims to investigate the history of our planet and its oceans by drilling 2km to collect measurements. Co-ordinated by US universities and research centres, and funded by the US National Science Foundation, it involves 24 countries, including an NZ-Australia consortium.
Back at the museum's gallery, Sam Scott, 8, and sister Ava, 5, examine the replica of a 55-million-year-old core sample. It looks and feels like a brown concrete rod, about a metre long, split to reveal a cross-section of strata.
"Where it changes colour it is something to do with when the dinosaurs became extinct because something maybe hit the Earth and the Earth changed. It was light and then dark and it was cool," young Ava recaps what she has learned.
"One of the most interesting things we learnt from the scientists on the ship is that there are volcanoes under the sea," Sam enthuses.
Dr Chris Hollis, a palaeontologist and environmental scientist, says the expeditions have uncovered interesting information about climate changes closer to home - over the past 56 million years.
"All these findings offer more insights into our world, its climate and carbon cycle and the surface of the Earth," says Dr Hollis.
Next month, the ship visits Auckland for its second and final time. The public may tour the ship, meet the scientists, listen to talks and see the museum exhibit.
The Oceans Gallery talks are held every Monday until the end of the school holidays.
To book tours and find out more about the JR, see http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/
To follow the expedition, see http://joidesresolution.org/