National Academies Press: OpenBook

Options for Scientific Ocean Drilling (1982)

Chapter: Background

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Suggested Citation:"Background." National Research Council. 1982. Options for Scientific Ocean Drilling. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18523.
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Suggested Citation:"Background." National Research Council. 1982. Options for Scientific Ocean Drilling. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18523.
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OPTIONS FOR SCIENTIFIC OCEAN DRILLING INTRODUCTION The Committee on Ocean Drilling was formed at the behest of the Congress, which, in authorizing the National Science Foundation's appropriations for FY1981, stated that "the National Academy of Sciences shall study marine earth science research and report to the Congress." Although stated in these general terms, the request was made with respect to NSF's proposed Ocean Margin Drilling Program (OMDP) and was defined by NSF as asking the Academy to "examine the scientific worth of the OMDP in terms of the overall research goals in the geological sciences especially as related to the marine areas." Under this charge the Committee began its work. Soon after the Committee's inception, however, a series of events drastically modified NSF's proposed program and refocused the Committee's charge to include an overall appraisal of the merits of ocean drilling in general and a comparison of several available operating options. It is on this modified charge that the Committee has concentrated its attention. BACKGROUND The National Science Foundation's proposed new program of scientific ocean drilling was conceived in the mid-1970's as a follow-on to its highly successful Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP). The need for a new program was evidenced by these developments: (1) Glomar Challenger was getting older and would soon need major refurbishment to continue drilling in the deep ocean basins; (2) Drilling by Challenger, plus other surveys, suggested that a number of scientifically significant problems were close to or beyond the limit of Challenger's capabilities; and (3) the Glomar Explorer, originally designed for other work, was available for conversion and had the potential to be a superior drilling vessel.

Early iterations of the program were based on the report of a planning conference held at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in March 1977. The report, "The Future of Scientific Ocean Drilling" (FUSOD), was published in July 1977 by the JOIDES* Executive Committee. Both the FUSOD report and NSF's original plan visualized a continuation of Challenger-type drilling in the deep oceans but contemplated (a) drilling deeper in selected places and (b) operating in stormy high latitudes where Challenger is inefficient or cannot operate at all. In addition, the new program would include drilling in the transition zones between the continents and ocean basins, where important geologic problems have been identified and where drilling requires the design and installation of blowout prevention equipment. It was this latter objective that originally led to the name "Ocean Margin Drilling Program," even though drilling along the margins was but a fraction of the total program. The unknown potential of the continental margins for oil and gas production meant that the new program could benefit the search for resources as well as the pursuit of pure science. To exploit this additional possibility, a cost-sharing partnership was forged between the federal government and a group of oil companies. Jointly funded for initial planning, the partnership was renewable at the option of all participants. Because of the continuing interest of the petroleum industry in learning more about the composition of continental margin sediments, emphasis was accorded these regions and the program became skewed toward Ocean Margin Drilling. This plan had several variants, mostly based on the Houston *JOIDES is the acronym for a consortium known as the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling.

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