When geology professor Ilya Buynevich goes to the beach, one could just say he’s in his office. Aside from teaching coastal geology, Buynevich spends his time traversing the seas to study underwater dune formations and the ancient remains buried beneath the waves.
In September, Buynevich joined Robert Ballard’s Institute for Exploration, the organization that discovered the sunken Titanic, for a two-week trip to the Mediterranean Sea to search for new species and sunken treasures. Among the findings were shipwrecks from the 19th and 20th centuries and Amphorae, ancient vases used to hold wine and olive oil during the time of the Roman Empire.
The Temple News met up with Buynevich to talk about the journey and what it’s like living life at sea.
The Temple News: What got you interested in coastal geology?
Ilya Buynevich: I grew up along the coast of the Black Sea. Obviously a lot of us kids went to the beach, and we liked being detectives. You know, we’re all detectives by nature, as humans. With scientists, it’s even more so. As geologists, we try and reconstruct ancient environments, and coastlines are some of the most dynamic environments on earth. It’s really a confluence between the fun studying the coastlines – actually doing your research on the beach – and the science involved when you’re talking about environmental issues like climate, changing sea levels, human impact, pollution and so on.
TTN: What do you think is the most interesting place in the world?
IB: I’ve really been working in the last few years in the Baltic Sea. It’s one of my favorite spots to be. It has the highest coastal dunes in Northern Europe, rising to almost 70 meters above sea level. There are 14 villages buried under these dunes. These dunes exert so much pressure on the underlying layers that they cause layers from beneath the Earth to get extruded onto the surface. Because of this, geologists can study something that’s otherwise located 10s of feet below the surface.
TTN: What are the oldest remains you’ve found on your expeditions?
IB: We found mud snails off the coast of New England at Martha’s Vineyard that are almost 7,000 years old. Obviously we find a lot of shipwrecks that are a thousand years old or so, but if you’re talking about what I’ve been involved in and radio-carbon dated, then it’s the 7,000-year-old snails.
TTN: Some of your work deals with the oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico. How is it affecting the cleanup?
IB: A lot of the time, folks will be implementing methods for cleanup but underestimate the amount of oil residing in that marsh. So for example, simple things like crab burrows – if they’re not considered when you’re studying the marsh and the effect of the oil spill, you can really underestimate the amount of oil. You think of oil spreading evenly over the marsh grasses, but what happens is that with all the organisms burrowing in the marsh, some oil can get down these burrows and sit there for quite a long time.
TTN: Do people often get seasick on weeks-long expeditions?
IB: Very few people get seasick, but if they do get seasick, they have to use the facilities on the ship, or usually, you know, they just do it overboard. They’re encouraged to take care of it by going to the closest railing. But most people take medication for it.
Zack Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.