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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-41 - April 22, 2003

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Bruce Malfait

 (703) 292-8581

United States and Japan Sign Memorandum of Cooperation for Integrated Ocean Drilling Program
Program will foster continued study of Earth's geologic processes

Arlington, Va.—The United States and Japan have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation, effective April 22, 2003, to proceed with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). The program will be co-led by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan and will use cores of sediment and rock from the ocean floor to study the geologic processes that modify our planet, the history of those changes in oceans and climate and the extent and depth of the planet's biosphere.

Although NSF and MEXT will provide the primary scientific facilities for IODP, significant scientific and financial participation is expected from European and Asian nations. IODP is scheduled to begin on October 1, 2003, and will have an initial duration of 10 years.

Scientific ocean drilling was pioneered by the NSF in the late 1960s with the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP), a test of the plate tectonic hypothesis and a basic reconnaissance of deep-sea sediments and rocks. In 1976, Japan and four other nations joined with NSF to provide financial resources to support the international phase of DSDP. DSDP was followed in 1985 by the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), our present phase of ocean drilling, and an examination of Earth, ocean and climate processes.

NSF provided the primary facility for both DSDP and ODP by contracting and converting an industry drillship for scientific drilling. International participation in planning, research and funding of operations has grown from an initial five countries in DSDP to more than 20 nations in ODP. This fiscal year will mark the final year of ODP drilling, with phase-out of program activity extending through 2007.

"Ocean drilling has become an essential capability in modern geosciences research and education, and is used to examine processes ranging from changes in the Earth's climate to the movements of continents," said Rita Colwell, director of NSF. "Drilling is the primary tool for sampling sediment and rock from the 70 percent of the Earth's surface covered by oceans, and is the only technique for sampling more than a few meters below the ocean floor."

IODP will have three areas of initial emphasis:

The Deep Biosphere and the Sub-Seafloor Ocean: Drilling will concentrate on expanding scientists' understanding of the architecture and dynamics of the vast sub-seafloor plumbing system, where water alters rock, modifies the long-term chemistry of the oceans, flows through seismically active faults, concentrates economic mineral deposits, and controls the distribution of the deep biosphere.

The Processes and Effects of Environmental Change: Ocean sediments provide a unique record of Earth's climate fluctuations and allow detection of climate signals on three time scales: tectonic (longer than 0.5 million years, and produced by changes in continent positions and continental seaways); orbital (20 thousand years to 400 thousand years, produced by changes in Earth's orbit); and oceanic (hundreds to a few thousand years, produced by changes in ocean circulation). "These sediment records will allow a sophisticated and detailed analysis of the causes, rates and severity of changes in the Earth's climate system and their relation to evolution," said Colwell.

Solid Earth Cycles and Geodynamics: The rates of mass and energy transfer from the mantle to the crust and back are not constant through time; the causes of these variations and their influences on the global environment are poorly understood. Drilling during the early phases of IODP will concentrate on sampling and monitoring regions of the seafloor that currently have the highest rates of energy and mass transfer, and comparing these results to older geologic settings. A crucial initial program of deep drilling will be to study the zone responsible for large destructive earthquakes along active plate boundaries.

IODP scientific objectives require a heavy vessel for drilling deep sedimentary and crustal holes; a lighter vessel for obtaining high-resolution cores to address climate, environmental, and sea-floor observatory objectives; and occasional use of drilling platforms for Arctic and near-shore projects that can't be undertaken from the two primary IODP vessels, said Colwell.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan is completing construction of the heavy drill ship to address deep drilling objectives in the new program. Their vessel, the Chikyu (which means Earth), launched in January 2002, will undergo outfitting and testing in 2003-2006, and will be available for IODP operations in 2007. The Japan Marine Science, Technology and Engineering Center (JAMSTEC) will operate the vessel for IODP.

The National Science Board has approved release of a solicitation for a U.S. contractor to manage the scientific and drilling operations of the light drilling vessel to be supported by the NSF for IODP. The contractor's responsibilities will include the operation of an initial vessel to be used in 2004 and 2005, as well as the selection of a long-term drill ship which will undergo extensive conversion and scientific outfitting in 2005 and be used for the remainder of IODP. NSF followed a similar procedure in supporting the conversion of both the Glomar Challenger (for DSDP) and the JOIDES Resolution (for ODP). The solicitation was released on March 19, 2003, with proposal evaluations and contract negotiations to be completed by August 2003.


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