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An International Corps of Exploration: My Interview With Dr. Nilhan Kızıldağ

Liz Smith / Ocean Exploration Trust

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Nilhan Kızıldağ, another member of the science team aboard Nautilus who came to us from our host country, Turkey.

Nilhan studied geophysical engineering at Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey.  In 2010, she received her doctoral degree from Dokuz Eylul in the field of marine geophysics, and she is now a lecturer in the Institute of Marine Sciences and Technology there.

Dr. Kızıldağ is currently researching the impact that tectonic activity and sea level changes since the last glacial period have had on now-submerged archeological sites.  She told me that the best title for her specialty might be something like “geoarchaeology,” which sounds like a fascinating field to me!

Nilhan learned about Dr. Robert Ballard’s Corps of Exploration from Dr. Harun Ozdas, her colleague at Dokuz Eylul University for the last six years (who is also with us here on Nautilus this season).  She was familiar with Dr. Ballard’s work because she had seen a documentary featuring his exploration of the Black Sea, and had read many articles on his archeological studies in the region.

Dr. Kızıldağ joined the expedition because she is interested in using the technology aboard the ship to advance her own research into sea level change since the ice age.  The modern Black Sea sits atop an older sea that existed in this region during the last ice age.  When the glaciers that covered much of the Earth at that time melted, about 12,000 years ago, the rising sea water flooded this area.  Humans who might have lived along the edge of the sea at that time, in a region now called the paleoshoreline, would have been forced to abandon their settlements as the sea rose to its current level, which is 110 m (360 ft) higher than it was at that time.  Nilhan is hoping to find archeological evidence of human settlements at a depth of 110 m, along that paleoshoreline.

Nilhan is watching the side-scan sonar data returned from the tow fish Diana for evidence of long, uniformly-shaped objects, such as have been found in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, which could be evidence of ancient, man-made structures.  Unfortunately, most such structures may now be covered with silt, so they will not cast sonar shadows on the surface.  This means that they will be harder to find than the more recent wrecks which sit atop the sea floor and sometimes show up very clearly in Diana’s sonar.  But sonar signals can penetrate some distance beneath the sea floor, so it may yet be possible to find evidence of these structures.

In the meantime, Dr. Kızıldağ has enjoyed seeing the high-resolution images being captured by Argus and Hercules.  She liked being a part of the discovery and preliminary investigation of the newly discovered wreck designated Eregli G, and she is especially excited to have an opportunity to work with the world-class science and engineering crew here aboard Nautilus.