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The times, they are a-changing.

25 Years of Ocean Drilling

The scientific return on the ocean drilling investment is abundantly obvious in the articles of this volume.

Change has been constant in the long and successful historyl of the ocean drilling programs supported by the US National Science Foundation and its international partners. During its 25-year history, ocean drilling has continually encountered new problems, new politics, and new programs. Each has been addressed through the scientific community's determination and commitment to preserving its capability to sample oceanic sediments and crustal layers. The scientific return on this past investment is abundantly obvious in the articles of this volume--and the potential returns from future investments promise to be equally rewarding.

The current Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) is the successor to the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP), a global reconnaissance of the ocean basins. Although begun in 1968 as a US initiative, the program's remarkable success led to growing international participation and interest. In 1974, five nations (France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) accepted a formal commitment to cooperatively plan and conduct the project, as well as to financially support the operations. This International Phase of Ocean Drilling (IPOD) continued until 1983. Although Glomar Challenger had reached the limits of her capabilities, DSDP's remarkable scientific success, the new questions it had generated, and the international cooperation and focusing of research efforts it had spawned demanded an increased capability for drilling.

Within 18 months of Challenger's retirement, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) was organized, international participation was coordinated, and a new drill ship (JOIDES Resolution) was contracted and outfitted. It sailed for its first cruise in early 1985. This remarkable accomplishment reflects the enormous dedication of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions Inc. (prime contractor for ODP), Texas A&M University (science and ship operator), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (logging operator) and the international science community to organize and plan the new program. With ODP, two new partners, Canada (later joined by Australia) and the European Science Foundation Consortium (representing 12 European countries), joined the list of nations providing scientific expertise and resources in addressing geologic and oceanographic problems on a global scale.

JOIDES Resolution has now operated in all oceans. It has drilled above the Arctic Circle and within sight of the antarctic continent. More than 1,200 scientists from 25 nations have sailed on the vessel. Larger scientific parties have allowed for increased student participation and training aboard ship. The state-of-the-art laboratories support rapid yet complete initial sample analyses that provide immediate scientific results that guide subsequent shore-based studies. Nearly 1,000 additional scientists have used these data and requested samples from the program's core and data archives for continuing study. The geochemical and geophysical logging capability (studies of the drill hole and its surroundings with a variety of instruments) is unsurpassed in either academia or industry, and has provided remarkable new data for earth studies.

What is the Future of Ocean Drilling?

The Ocean Drilling Program as presently structured will end within 10 years--however, our need to drill and sample ocean sediment and crust will continue. The ocean drilling community has begun to identify its future priorities and to forge direct links with a number of major new international initiatives that require ocean drilling. Expansion of the Global Seismic Network (for monitoring earthquakes) into the oceans is being closely coordinated with ODP. Recent drilling in the Arctic has supported implementation of the Nansen Arctic Drilling Program. ODP is recognized as a major contributor to the US Global Change Research Program because of its emphasis on climate and ocean history. ODP and the continental drilling communities are increasing their cooperation as they begin to face similar problems in drilling high-temperature environments and developing new logging and experiment programs.

The success of one drill ship has, of course, generated the need for additional platforms to expand the options available for addressing the scientific questions of the future. Japan has begun to plan construction of a next-generation drill ship |humorously~ referred to in the ocean drilling community as Godzilla Maru. The new vessel would provide sampling capability for deep crustal and sedimentary holes, and allow deep drilling with a riser system (use of a second pipe surrounding the main drill string to circulate drilling fluids and prevent any oil or gas deposits encountered from "blowing out" the drillhole). In Europe a smaller drill ship is under discussion to focus on shallow drilling for sedimentary studies and experiments deployed in drill holes. The ability to drill in shallow water from jack-up platforms to address global sea-level history will be an important requirement in future ocean drilling. And, of course, JOIDES Resolution will be a highly capable ship into the next century.

Identifying the priority research questions to be addressed, justifying the proper mix of platforms to be used, and formulation of a new operational plan with increased international participation will be critical activities for the US and international communities in the coming years. Marshalling the necessary resources to support the next generation of ocean drilling will be an equally important task.

Bruce Malfait is the Program Director for the Ocean Drilling Program at the National Science Foundation, a position he has held since 1987. Malfait received his Ph.D. in marine geology at Oregon State University. He joined the National Science Foundation in 1974 as an Assistant Program Director in the International Decade of Oceanography Program. In 1980 he became an Associate Program Director in the Submarine Geology and Geophysics Program.
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Title Annotation:25 Years of Ocean Drilling
Author:Malfait, Bruce
Date:Dec 22, 1993
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