This month, scientists off the coast of Ecuador are chasing hot, teeming microbe masses that live in two long, thin holes drilled into the ocean floor.
A cruise aboard the legendary research vessel JOIDES Resolution is the latest in the five-decade history of scientific ocean drilling. Drilling holes in the seafloor has revolutionized geoscience, helping researchers validate the theory of plate tectonics, discover microbes deep in the ocean crust, and investigate the hidden risks of earthquakes and tsunamis. In order to keep the field alive in the coming years, scientists have to convince the international funding organizations that discoveries still have to be made.
The International Agreement on Scientific Ocean Drilling expires in 2023. Researchers from the 26 Nations Participating This framework, known as the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), will meet in Osaka, Japan on September 1
The IODP member states together spend about $ 150 million a year on chic explorers on drilling expeditions. "There is a lot at stake if we want to continue drilling scientific ocean drilling beyond 2023," says Anthony Koppers, a marine geologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
At the meeting in Osaka, scientists will discuss whether to accept an ambitious research proposal This plan builds on the discussions at regional meetings in the IODP countries last year. "We have to dream to really try it," says Dick Kroon, a geoscientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who will chair the conference in Osaka Unprecedented attempts to reconstruct the past climate and improve researchers' understanding, such as Earth could function during future climate change, leading to regular holes across the oceans. Other goals include the study of the formation and evolution of life in the ocean crust.
The idea inspires Anais Pages, marine researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Bentley, Australia. She says that setting ambitious interdisciplinary goals "will be critical to achieving important scientific discoveries."
It is unclear which of the 26 IODP member states will join these scientific goals. Once the researchers have approved a definitive plan, state funding agencies will have to decide how much they want to invest in the future of ocean drilling millions of grants a year. The ship began in 1985 with the extraction of geological cores and is the workhorse of the IODP fleet. The ship travels around the world employing a rotating, international team of scientists covering topics ranging from the history of the Indian monsoon to the earthquake risk in Indonesia.
The ship has funds to sail until the end of September 2024. but it is old and outdated and can be retired afterwards. The Norwegian shipping company Siems Offshore has offered to build a replacement ship for free – in exchange for a 10-year commitment from Siems to operate it. The US-American part of IODP says that scientists could spend more time each year getting to the bottom of the sea drilling and exploring, as the ship would be faster than in the JOIDES resolution. The NSF would pay around 12% more per year to operate this ship than for the JOIDES resolution says Clement, who is based at Texas A & M University at College Station.
Japan is expected to keep posting scientists on its drill ship, which Chikyu is operating since 2007. The Chikyu can drill much deeper into the seabed than the JOIDES Resolution can, but it operates almost exclusively in Japanese waters, limiting its value to scientists around the world.
A group of European countries, the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling, is expected to occasionally continue to hire industrial vessels for one-off jobs to complete scientific drilling projects. But the consortium struggled to find the money for all the cruises it would like to do, and had to postpone expeditions like exploring the Arctic seabed.
And China could have a new drill ship passing by the early 2020s. His geological survey is building a ship, which should focus on the search for gas hydrates near the Chinese coast, but which could also be used for international research expeditions. Representatives of the Chinese ocean drilling community are expected to discuss this possibility at the meeting in Osaka. No matter what happens, Rosalind Coggon, a marine geologist at the National Oceanography Center of the University of Southampton, UK, sees much room for new insights in the coming decades. "I really hope we've discovered something in 25 years that we did not know about," she says.