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10 PROGRAM OPTIONS As noted above, the withdrawal of industrial support from the Ocean Margin Drilling Program sensu stricto occasioned a reevaluation of the whole future of scientific ocean drilling. NSF summarized the possibilities in terms of four basic options: 1. Terminate ocean drilling in 1983 when Challenger finishes its present contract. 2. Continue a riserless drilling program using a refurbished Challenger for an additional five years. 3. Convert Explorer to a non-riser drilling ship and use her as a newer and superior deep-sea drilling platform. 4. Convert Explorer with full riser and blowout prevention hardware to conduct both riser and riserless drilling programs. A fifth option, unstated by NSF, was the continued use of Challenger without refurbishing. This option appears likely to lead to slowly rising costs as repairs must be made, and to a drastic decline in productivity. It appears useful only for a very short-term program and would be less cost-effective than any of the positive options. We have dismissed it as ineffective. The basic choice is between #1 and the othersâto drill or not to drill. We conclude that the scientific justification for a continuing program is very strong and therefore recommend that option #1 no longer be considered. A choice among the remaining options is less clear. Starting with #2, each succeeding option provides increasing capabilities and allows an attack on more problems. But each is more costly than its predecessors. The choice of options therefore depends partly on how much can be afforded and partly on the cost effectiveness of each option in achieving important scientific goals.
11 Option #4, Explorer with full riser, would allow attack upon the greatest range of scientific problems. It is also the most expensive (development and construction of the riser blowout-prevention system alone is estimated at $50-100 million) and may not be fundable at this time. Therefore, if we defer this option because of probable economic difficulties, the choice would lie between a refurbished Challenger and an Explorer without a riser but with the possibility that this capacity would be added later. As noted in the scientific justification, either Option 2 or 3 can yield a strong scientific program, and the decision is really one of cost effectiveness. The case for preferring the Glomar Explorer seems to us very strong for the following reasons: 1) Without minimizing either the past contributions of Challenger or its potential for continuing contributions, the added dimensions that Explorer (even without a riser) would provide seem well worth the small incremental costs of her conversion and operation (Table 1). The ability to operate in higher latitudes and at higher sea states will allow expansion of present sediment studies to yield real global patterns. Especially important will be drilling off Antarctica, an area of inclement weather which is a critical region in oceanic and atmospheric heat transfer. Also the potential for deeper penetration of both sediments and the igneous basement will allow work on problems beyond the ability of Challenger. 2) Explorer, even more than Challenger, should be considered for what it really isâa large versatile facility rather than a large single tool or project (Figure 1). It is comparable to an astronomical observatory, a large
12 accelerator, or an NCAR.* It is a platform from which many questions can be addressed, many problems tackled. Moreover, Explorer is a nearly new, sturdily built vehicle with a potentially long productive life. It is also large enough to accommodate sophisticated analytical instruments that facilitate shipboard research and training. It is a long-term investment in scientific opportunity, and the opportunity to acquire such a versatile observatory at this price tag is almost certainly time-limited. Explorer will not be available for the indefinite future, and to duplicate her capabilities with a new ship would cost much more, perhaps twice as much as her conversion. 3) Although none of the cost estimates available to date can be considered really firm, a number of careful iterations and revisions tend to confirm that the annual operating costs of Explorer would exceed those of Challenger by no more than 10 percent. Even this difference may be offset by new foreign partners attracted by Explorer's greater capabilities and by the potential for conversion of her engines from marine diesel fuel to heavy oil. Conversion of Explorer (without a riser but designed to accommodate one) would apparently cost between $50 and $100 million (1982 dollars); this is expensive but not a large amount for a facility with such potential. Moreover, a large part of these "up front" costs could be defrayed by simply maintaining the present operating budget for one to two years after Challenger finishes her stint in 1983. When we take all these factors into consideration, the Explorer option seems clearly the most productive and cost effective. Both COSOD and the NSF have recommended this route and we strongly agree with their choice. *National Center for Atmospheric Research