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An abridged history of deep ocean drilling.

In April 1961, CUSS I drilled the first deep sea hole in 3,800 meters of water off Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

This issue of Oceanus concerns 25 years of ocean drilling for scientific purposes. However, the decade preceding these 25 years represents one of the most exciting and controversial periods of earth-science research. The full impact of the success of scientific ocean drilling would be incomplete without a brief recapitulation of this tumultuous period.

The Mohole

As near as can be reconstructed, the history of deep ocean drilling began in 1957, when Walter Munk (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Harry Hess (Princeton University) suggested that a combination of increased capability to drill deeply into the earth and continuing development of offshore drilling techniques would allow oceanographers to sample the material beneath the boundary of Earth's crust and mantle. This boundary, which lies about 10 kilometers below the ocean surface and some 30 to 40 kilometers beneath the top of the continental crust, is called the Mohorovicic discontinuity, after the Croatian geologist who first discovered it. More commonly, it is referred to as the Moho.

Later that year, several members of an informal group known as the American Miscellaneous Society refined the idea at a breakfast meeting at Walter Munk's La Jolla home. The unconventional American Miscellaneous Society, or AMSOC, was born in the Office of Naval Research in 1952, when a number of scientists formed a loose affiliation to look at the lighter side of heavier problems. Contrary to its normal modus operandi, AMSOC took seriously the initiative to drill to the Moho. An AMSOC committee was formed, and chaired by Gordon Lill of the Office of Naval Research. Next, AMSOC submitted a proposal for a feasibility study to the National Science Foundation (NSF), only to be turned down, not because of the proposal's merit, but for lack of a formal organizational structure. Not to be disenfranchised, the AMSOC committee reestablished itself as an official National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council committee and resubmitted the proposal--this time successfully. Thus, the AMSOC Mohole project was born.

Willard Bascom (a specialist in ocean engineering on the National Academy staff) became majordomo of the project and immediately set off to prove feasibility. His tack was to utilize a barge, CUSS I, originally owned by Continental, Union, Shell, and Superior oil companies and recently acquired by the newly established Global Marine Exploration company. CUSS I's main assets were a drilling rig plus four large outboard motors for positioning the barge in deep water. In April 1961, CUSS I drilled the first deep sea hole in 3,800 meters of water off Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The hole penetrated about 200 meters of sediment with ages up to 25 million years, and beneath that recovered 14 meters of basalt. This represented the first verification that layer "2" under the ocean floor was basalt, and proved the concept of deep sea drilling. It was indeed a momentous occasion.

Following this heady success, AMSOC recommended proceeding to the next goal--the Moho. However, this recommendation carried with it a seed of dissent that later grew to proportions nearly fatal to ocean drilling. The dissent centered on the question of whether there should be a single ship designed to drill all the way to Moho, or whether the Moho ship should be preceded by a vessel designed primarily for coring sediment and developing the prerequisite skills for deep ocean drilling. With a scientific community nearly equally divided on these two strategies, trouble was inevitable. Nonetheless, the extent of the subsequent conflagration was anticipated by none.

In spite of its initial successes, other factors caused AMSOC to lose its favored lead-role position in the Moho project by late 1961, and the AMSOC group was relegated to advisory capacity, forcing NSF to seek a new prime contractor. The project's lucrative financial and prestige factors brought a large industry response, including some unlikely partners. There were five leading contenders: a partnership of Socony Mobil Oil, Texas Instruments, General Motors, and Standard Oil of California; another of Global Marine Exploration, Shell Oil, and Aerojet-General; plus the individual companies Brown and Root; Zapata OffShore; and General Electric. Competition was intense, with members of the California, Colorado, and Texas congressional delegations actively supporting their constituents. After thorough and repeated reviews, including considerable wrangling at high government levels, NSF selected Brown and Root to be the prime contractor. Because Brown and Root had not ranked highly in early evaluations of bids, protests were loud and many. Much attention was drawn to the fact that Brown and Root was located in the Texas congressional district of Albert Thomas, who at the time was chairman of NSF's appropriations committee. Texas was also the home state of then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. What should have been a routine governmental contract negotiation had suddenly become a cause celebre.

Simultaneous with the unfolding contractual controversies, the scientific community was engaged in what might be considered open warfare over the one-ship/two-ship issue. Ironically, the primary proponents for each strategy were both located at Princeton, namely, Harry Hess (professor), who opted for proceeding directly to Moho, and Hollis Hedberg (part-time professor and vice president for exploration at Gulf Oil Corporation) for the intermediate sediment coring approach. The issue was hotly debated in journals and at scientific meetings, each side essentially accusing the other of scientific chicanery. It was not science at its most glorious moment. In the end, NSF decided there would be a single ship that would drill sediments as its first phase. This decision satisfied few. Brown and Root, as prime contractor, proceeded with a single-ship design utilizing the relatively new semisubmersible technology. The initial cost estimate was $47 million, more than double AMSOC's original estimate. This proved to be a harbinger of more escalations. In 1965, a San Diego shipyard was selected to build the Brown and Root design at a cost of $30 million; by this time the estimated overall cost of the project was $127 million. This factor-of-six escalation over initial AMSOC estimates caused alarm in both the scientific community and Congress, so much so that Congress passed a law in 1966 forbidding NSF to proceed. Project Mohole was officially dead.


After such intense and divisive activity, the speed of reconciliation was surprising. Even before Mohole's official demise, the four major oceanographic laboratories, Scripps, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Miami Institute of Marine Sciences, and Lamont Geological Observatory of Columbia University, under the respective leadership of Roger Revelle, Paul Fye, F.G. Walton Smith, and Maurice Ewing, united to form Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES). In 1965, Lamont proposed that JOIDES use the drill ship Caldrill off Florida. Anxious for unity, NSF supported this JOIDES effort. Its success led NSF to encourage JOIDES to continue. In 1966, Scripps was designated as the operating member of JOIDES and was given a $12.6 million NSF contract to establish the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP).

In August 1968, Glomar Challenger, operated by Global Marine Exploration, began the first of DSDP's epic 96 legs. From 1968 until 1983, Glomar Challenger traveled over 600,000 kilometers, covering the world's oceans and collecting over 97 kilometers of core. The scientific results from these cruises far exceeded expectations; they can only be described as nothing short of revolutionary. During this period, major advances were also made in deep sea drilling technology. In the mid-1970s, DSDP changed its character and name when non-US participants joined JOIDES in providing scientific guidance and support for the program. These countries included: the USSR, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and France. With the inclusion of official international participation, DSDP became known as the International Phase of Ocean Drilling or IPOD.

Ocean Margin Drilling

Shortly after IPOD's inception in 1976, the US members of JOIDES, which by now numbered nine, incorporated to form Joint Oceanographic Institutions Incorporated (JOI). In 1993, the JOI members are: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Oregon State University's College of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography, Texas A&M University's College of Geosciences and Maritime Studies, University of Texas's Institute for Geophysics, University of Washington's College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

This was a first step in restructuring the management of ocean drilling. JOI assumed the legal role of management. Actual planning still involved all participants through a JOIDES executive committee. The executive committee, in turn, established a planning committee and a series of panels to provide scientific and technical advice. As the IPOD phase of ocean drilling was approaching its planned 1979 conclusion, a long-range plan was deemed essential. Consequently, the JOIDES executive committee convened the first of several meetings on the future of scientific ocean drilling (FUSOD) in Woods Hole in 1977. The meeting, noting the past great scientific successes of the program, recommended that a different vessel, Glomar Explorer, constructed in the early 1970s for a failed attempt to raise a Soviet submarine that sank in the Pacific, be engaged to provide the increased capability required by science. The Woods Hole meeting, combined with another in Houston (HUSOD), led to the formation of the Ocean Margin Drilling program (OMD) in 1980. OMD had significantly different aspects. First, there were to be a limited number of deep holes requiring riser or cased drillholes. This scenario carried OMD beyond the bounds of existing technology. Second, OMD was to be supported half by NSF and half by 10 petroleum companies: Atlantic-Richfield, Cities Service, Conoco, Exxon, Mobil, Pennzoil, Phillips, Standard of California, Sunmark Exploration, and Union. Following industry practice, as part of the planning, a synthesis was initiated of all data in the regions of interest. However, before this was completed, an apparent decision-making mismatch between government and industry--not the scientific caliber of the proposed program--caused industry to terminate its support in late 1981. At that time Glomar Explorer was dropped from further consideration as a drill ship. Surviving remnants of OMD are its atlases of regional data syntheses. Within a year OMD was born and dead, without drilling a single hole. Consequently, IPOD was extended to 1983. (As a footnote, OMD had been curiously silent about international participation.)

Ocean Drilling Program

Because OMD appeared not to include all IPOD participants, JOI resolved to plan a long-range, international program. An international Conference On Scientific Ocean Drilling (COSOD) was held in 1981 at the University of Texas. In 1983, Texas A&M University proposed a plan to use SEDCO/BP 471, which was larger, newer, and offered much greater capability than Glomar Challenger. The new program, known as the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), with JOI as the prime contractor and Texas A&M as the science operator, was approved by all participants. SEDCO/BP 471, known to the scientific community as JOIDES Resolution, was outfitted with a seven-story scientific laboratory. Its first ODP cruise began in January 1985. Subsequently, in 1987, some 340 scientists from 20 countries participated in COSOD II, hosted by the European Science Foundation in Strasbourg, France. This meeting was convened to redefine the scientific objectives of ODP through 1993 and beyond.

Between 1987 and 1993, ODP has slowly transformed from a US program with international support to a truly international program. In addition to the US, participants at the present time include: Canada-Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Science Foundation (representing Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and Turkey). Many ODP activities are based outside the US. This internationalization has led to a significant strengthening of the program, and the next decade of ocean drilling is currently being planned.

The Deep Sea Drilling Legacy

The legacy left so far by the DSDP, IPOD, and ODP drilling programs, in addition to the manifold scientific and technical contributions, are some 182 volumes of reports requiring 9 linear meters of shelf space. Further, about 182 kilometers of core recovered from the drilling are available to scientists in repositories located at Scripps, L-DEO, and Texas A&M. Data from site surveys and down-hole logging associated with the drilling programs are housed in repositories at L-DEO. These data represent an incalculable future resource available to scientists worldwide.

As a founder of the American Miscellaneous Society, since 1957 Art Maxwell has cajoled many on the virtues of ocean drilling programs. But noting he has served time at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Office of Naval Research, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and The University of Texas at Austin, he anticipates time off for good behavior. He is currently Director of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Title Annotation:25 Years of Ocean Drilling
Author:Maxwell, Arthur E.
Date:Dec 22, 1993
Previous Article:The times, they are a-changing.
Next Article:ODP at sea: work aboard JOIDES Resolution.

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