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IODP presents new Ocean Discovery science plan

17.06.2011, Age: 3782 days

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program presented its new ambitious science plan for 2013-2023 at a press conference in Amsterdam, last week. Global climate change, earthquakes, and tsunami generation are some of the most pressing geoscientific challenges of the 21st century. Scientific ocean drilling is a key tool to investigate these phenomena and fundamental questions in Earth and life sciences.

At a meeting at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, senior representatives of funding agencies from 24 nations adopted a road map for the next decade of scientific ocean drilling research.

The research plan, Illuminating Earth’s Past, Present, and Future, outlines an ambitious geoscience initiative known as the International Ocean Discovery Program. Planned to begin in 2013, it will build on the scientific and technical successes of previous ocean drilling research and aims to address the prospect of future climate change from the perspective of the Earth’s past, the mechanisms and occurrence of large earthquakes and tsunamis, the structure of the Earth’s interior, and the nature of life deep below the seafloor. The plan is available at: www.iodp.org.

“This research plan was written by a team of some of the world’s best geoscientists with contributions from more than 600 scientists,” explains Hans Christian Larsen, Vice President of IODP-Management International Inc. (IODP-MI), the program’s central coordinating agency based in Tokyo. “It truly reflects the priorities of the global academic community in Earth sciences research.”

Variations in Earth’s climate and its oceans, evolution of the marine biosphere, and the composition of the Earth’s mantle are preserved in rocks and sediment at and below the ocean floor. By applying increasingly sophisticated research methods, scientists can tune into these signals from Earth’s past to learn about dramatic shifts in the location of continents, extreme volcanism, fluctuations in atmospheric gases, and the formation of the ocean floor and island arcs.

Illuminating Earth’s Past, Present, and Future focuses on four research themes: using records of past climate and ocean change to inform the future; exploring deep life, biodiversity, and environmental forcing of ecosystems; understanding deep Earth processes and how they impact Earth’s surface; and investigating geological processes and hazards that occur on human time scales.

“The new program will expand research frontiers by targeting Earth’s mantle six
kilometers below the seafloor, exploring life in extreme environments, and revealing clues to Earth’s climate history from beneath the ice-covered Arctic Ocean,” says Maureen Raymo, Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and Chair of the executive committee that guides scientific ocean drilling.

Fumio Inagaki, Senior Researcher at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology adds, “exploring life processes deep below the seafloor at the very edge of habitability may yield results ranging from industrial applications to a better understanding of life in the universe.”

Key to implementing the research plan is state-of-the-art infrastructure currently in use by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Worth approximately one billion USD, these facilities include the US-supplied JOIDES Resolution drilling vessel; the Japanese drilling vessel CHIKYU; and global core repositories and laboratories.

The US and Japan, in partnership with 16 European countries and Canada (ECORD), will play a leading role in the new program. ECORD will provide access to drilling platforms for the Arctic or other environments requiring highly specialized platforms. Australia, India, New Zealand, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea will participate as program members and more nations may join in 2012. Funding commitments of the 24-nation ocean drilling research consortium are expected by mid-2012.

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