5. A MORE REALISTIC ASSESSMENT: NEPTUNE AS A TOOL IN SUPPORT OF DATA IMPROVEMENT
Eight years after the first planning meetings at the ETH, I have finally achieved a balance between the initial expectations/dreams and the realization of what Neptune really is and its limitations. I have described the scopes, accomplishments, and drawbacks of this project in the previous chapters and now it is time to answer the question: what next? What is the future of Neptune? In the previous chapters, I tried to convey that Neptune is not a sufficient data set to base several (biostratigraphic) publications on, but mainly a tool to make collecting new data more focused and more efficient. And this is the legacy of this project to the research community.
The chronology of the Neogene sediments of some 100 DSDP holes was published as an Ocean Drilling Program Technical Note (Lazarus et al. 1995a) and is currently available through the WWW site of the NOAA- National Geographic Data Center (NGDC) ( http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/geology/lazarus.html). The age models for these sites were based on Berggren et al. (1985). The updated models (to Berggren et al. 1995a, b) extended to the whole Cenozoic, as well as additional ODP holes, are published here in graphic form and as text files in the Appendix A. At the same time, a link to them will be deposited at the widely used archival site of the NGDC.
At present, the database is accessible through the author, at the ETH Zürich, and at the Natural History Museum in Basel, Switzerland. It is still unclear how the whole database with its search options will be made accessible to the community. Among the options discussed are a CD-ROM (which would, however, require the relatively expensive 4th Dimension® program to run) and a server at the Micropaleontological Reference Center (MRC) in Basel. The optimal solution for this second option would be an interactive WWW site that could be remotely accessible world-wide. Recently, the program NetLink/4D™ has been made available on the market. This program apparently makes databases searchable through the Internet (Lazarus, personal commun., 1998). However, I have not seen nor tried the program yet and do not know how user-friendly it is. However, I suspect that the large size of Neptune would make even the simplest searches very slow and time consuming through the Internet. A more modest, but immediately feasible alternative, would be to have one person at the MRC in charge of the use of Neptune. Requests for searches could be e-mailed to the MRC and the results (in print or as computer files) mailed to the requester. Among the various possibilities, searches for presence/absence and location or number of occurrence of single or multiple taxa would require only a few minutes. This search would also provide information on the taxonomic validity of the taxa and the lists of synonyms. A more extensive search would distinguish between stratigraphically and thematically well and poorly covered intervals. The identification of significant gaps in the biostratigraphic record (e.g., Paleogene biochronology of siliceous microfossils and revisitation of suitable Paleogene sediments for detailed biostratigraphy) ( Fig. 5.1) would be the basis for the logical, objective planning of future research. It could spur clearly aimed detailed micropaleontological studies, instead of random studies that generate a lot of repetition and overlap (e.g., Moore 1972).
Considering that Neptune contains selected, good quality holes, it is still notable how small the number of useful holes (well cored, well analyzed and well documented with modern biochronological methods and modern taxonomy) has remained. An enormous amount of re-analysis of older sections could be quite profitable. Fig. 5.1 indicates that a lot can still be done on sections older than the late Miocene, especially on siliceous plankton groups. New coring needed to fill the existing coverage gaps could be identified with three dimensional (latitude vs. longitude vs. time) maps of the oceans produced with Neptune. Another way to identify stratigraphic coverage gaps is given by the rate of success in recovering drilled sections ( Fig. 5.2). This curve indicates that the early and middle Eocene, as well as large parts of the Miocene, have been less well recovered than e.g., the Plio-Pleistocene or the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. This might be one of the causes of the poor Eocene biochronology for certain plankton groups. Recent ODP Legs (e.g., 171B) have recovered long Eocene sections: these should be studied in detail to cover this recovery gap.
These are just a couple of examples of the utility of Neptune in designing goal-oriented studies aimed to obtain a complete picture of the oceans’ history during the Cenozoic, necessary for a better understanding of the complex processes that control the Earth systems. This approach would, however, require the change in nature of the DSDP and ODP projects from ‘leg oriented’ to ‘overview oriented’, which in my opinion is a more effective investment of resources. This step would certainly represent the most valuable contribution of Neptune to the geological community.