Deep Sea Drilling Project

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Glomar Challenger

The Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) was an ocean drilling project operated from 1968 to 1983. The program was a success, as evidenced by the data and publications that have resulted from it. The data are now hosted by Texas A&M University, although the program was coordinated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. DSDP provided crucial data to support the seafloor spreading hypothesis and helped to prove the theory of plate tectonics. DSDP was the first of three international scientific ocean drilling programs that have operated over more than 40 years. It was followed by the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) in 1985, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program in 2004 and the present International Ocean Discovery Program in 2013.[1]


The initial contract between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Regents of the University of California was signed on June 24, 1966. This contract initiated the first phase of the DSDP, which was based in Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Global Marine, Inc. conducted the drilling operations. The Levingston Shipbuilding Company laid the keel of the Glomar Challenger on October 18, 1967, in Orange, Texas.[2] It sailed down the Sabine River to the Gulf of Mexico, and after a period of testing, DSDP accepted the ship on August 11, 1968.[1]

Through contracts with Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), NSF supported the scientific advisory structure for the project and funded pre-drilling geophysical site surveys. Scientific planning was conducted under the auspices of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES). The JOIDES advisory group consisted of 250 distinguished scientists from academic institutions, government agencies, and private industry from all over the world. Over the next 30 months, the second phase consisted of drilling and coring in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean as well as the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Technical and scientific reports followed during the period. The second phase of DSDP ended on August 11, 1972.[3]

The success of the Glomar Challenger was almost immediate. On one of the sites with a water depth of 1,067 m (3,500 ft), core samples revealed the existence of salt domes. Oil companies received samples after an agreement to publish their analysis. The potential of oil beneath deep ocean salt domes remains an important avenue for commercial development today.[4][1]

As for the purpose of the scientific exploration, one of the most important discoveries was made when the crew drilled 17 holes at 10 different locations along an oceanic ridge between South America and Africa. The retrieved core samples provided strong proof for continental drift and seafloor renewal at rift zones.[5] This confirmation of Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift strengthened the proposal of a single, ancient land mass, which is called Pangaea. The samples gave further evidence to support the plate tectonics theory, which at the time attempted to explain the formation of mountain ranges, earthquakes, and oceanic trenches.[6] Another discovery was how youthful the ocean floor is in comparison to Earth's geologic history. After analysis of samples, scientists concluded that the ocean floor is probably no older than 200 million years.[7][1] This is in comparison with the 4.5 billion-year age of the Earth.

The International Phase of Ocean Drilling (IPOD) began in 1975 with the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France joining the United States in field work aboard the Glomar Challenger and in post-cruise scientific research.[8] The Glomar Challenger docked for the last time with DSDP in November 1983.[9] Parts of the ship, such as its dynamic positioning system, engine telegraph, and thruster console, are stored at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. With the advent of larger and more advanced drilling ships, the JOIDES Resolution replaced the Glomar Challenger in January 1985. The new program, called the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), continued exploration from 1985 to 2003, at which point it was replaced by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).[1]

Coring operations[edit]

Although itself a remarkable engineering accomplishment, the Glomar Challenger saw many advances in deep-ocean drilling. One problem solved involved the replacement of worn drill bits.[2] A length of pipe suspended from the ship down to the bottom of the sea might have been as long as 20,483 ft (6,243 m). The maximum depth penetrated through the ocean bottom could have been as great as 4,262 ft (1299 m). To replace the bit, the drill string must be raised, a new bit attached, and the string remade down to the bottom. However, the crew had to thread this string back into the same drill hole. The technique for this formidable task was accomplished on June 14, 1970, in the Atlantic Ocean in 10,000 ft (3048 m) of water off the coast of New York. This re-entry was accomplished with the use of sonar scanning equipment and a re-entry cone that had a diameter of 16 ft (4.88 m) and height of 14 ft (4.27 m).[2]

One major technological advance was the extended use of the holes after drilling.[10] Geophysical and geochemical measurements were made during and after drilling, and occasionally long-term seismic monitoring devices were installed in the holes. This extended understanding of the dynamic processes involved in plate tectonics. Another technological advance involved the introduction of the hydraulic piston corer (HPC[11]) in 1979, which permitted the recovery of virtually undisturbed cores of sediment.[12] This greatly enhanced the ability of scientists to study ancient ocean environments.

From August 11, 1968, to November 11, 1983, the Glomar Challenger achieved the following accomplishments:

Total distance penetrated below the seafloor 325,548 meters
Total interval cored 170,043 meters
Total core recovered and stored 97,056 meters
Overall core recovery 57%
Number of cores recovered 19,119
Number of sites investigated 624
Number of expeditions completed 96
Deepest penetration beneath the ocean floor 1,741 meters
Maximum penetration into basaltic crust 1,080 meters
Deepest water 7,044 meters
Total distance traveled 375,632 nautical miles (695,670 km)

Core samples, publications, and data[edit]

The ship retrieved core samples in 30 ft (9.1 m) long cores with a diameter of 2.5 in (6.4 cm). These cores are currently stored at three repositories in the US, Germany, and Japan. One half of each core is called the archive half and is preserved for future use. The working half of each core is used to provide samples for ongoing scientific research.[10]

The scientific results were published as the "Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project", which contains the results of studies of the recovered core material and the associated geophysical information from the expeditions from 1968 to 1983.[13] These reports describe the core materials and scientific data obtained at sea and in shore-based laboratories post-cruise. These volumes were originally prepared for NSF under contract by the University of California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 2007, the printed books were scanned and prepared for electronic presentation by the Texas A&M University College of Geosciences.[13]

Discovery and accomplishment in Antarctic region[edit]

DSDP completed four drilling programs; Legs 28, 29, 35 and 36 around Antarctica during four Austrian summers, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1974–75 and 1975–76. These programs were focused on two main objectives:Cenozoic global paleoclimatic changes and plate tectonic movements around Antarctica.[14][15][16][17] There were a total of 15 wells drilled around the Antarctic continent, including 4 wells in the Ross Sea, 5 wells on the continental margins, 2 wells in the abyssal plain and 4 wells across the SE Indian Ridge, among which the Site 270 was drilled at the highest latitude (77o26.45’S)[14][16](Figure 1 on page 725 shows Sites 324 and 325 drilled on continental rise. They are included in the text of 5 wells on the continental margins)。Analyses of data collected from the drilling accomplish the following results:

Sea floor spreading[edit]

Prior to the deep sea drilling program, the ages of the oceanic basalt were estimated based on magnetic lineations generated at the spreading center as the sea floor pulled apart. Sediments immediately overlying the basalt should have ages similar to the age of magnetic stripes. This is confirmed by the micropaleontologic analyses of the basal sediments sampled above the penetrated basalts. These analyses furthermore substantiate that Australia was separated from Antarctic 85 my ago[18][19][14][16](p 729, “At Site 325 the magnetic anomalies, basement depth, and fossils all suggest a late Oligocene basement age.”)。

Inception of Antarctic ice cap[edit]

Based on paleo-soil study, the Ross shelf began to sink below sea-level about 25 million years ago in the Oligocene. This suggests that Antarctic glaciers already advanced to the Ross Sea shelf.[20][21] This age is consistent with the dating of the shallow unconformity seen on the seismic profiles. The unconformity was attributed to the glacier erosion when advancing to the coastal area. Development of the Circum Antarctic Current was also initiated in the Oligocene.[15][22] In addition, drilling onshore around the Ross Sea and on the Antarctic Peninsular also confirms that Antarctic ice sheet already existed at least since the Oligocene.[23][24]

Ice-rafted debris[edit]

The occurrence of ice-rated debris in marine sediments is an indication of icebergs presence. Hence the earliest occurrence in the high latitudes could possibly reveal the inception of sea-level glaciations. It should be pointed out that there are factors influencing the distribution of ice-rated debris, such as ocean currents, and sea water near surface temperatures. Hence the earliest occurrence should be considered as the minimum age of ice rafting at sample locations. Investigations of ice-rated debris reasonably conclude that the Antarctic ice sheet was initiated at least 25 m.y. ago and cumulated at about 4.5 m.y., as evidenced by ice-rated debris reaching farthest away from the continent[15][16](p. 735“Cores from the four Leg 35 sites were studied for evidence of ice-rafted debris in the form of small dropstones and quartz grains with distinctive microscopic surface textures suggestive of glacial transport.738 glaciation in Antarctica was weak in the earliest Miocene, moderate by the middle Miocene, extensive by about late middle Miocene, and probably full by sometime during the late Miocene. Abstract “The glaciation of West Antarctica may have begun in the Eocene, but it was certainly underway by the Miocene. Interpretation of the sediments cored suggests that Antarctic glaciation was weak in the early Miocene, moderate by middle Miocene, extensive by late middle Miocene, and fully developed by sometime in the late Miocene. The intensity of glaciation subsequently declined, with several fluctuations, during the Pliocene and the Quaternary to its present moderate to extensive state.”.[25][26]

This interpretation of Antarctic glaciation history based on marine sediments was subsequently supported by the onshore study of the Antarctic Peninsular [27] and by the coring results around McMurdo Ice Shelf.[28][29]


Micropaleontologic data from deep sea sediments around the Antarctic continental margin indicate that since at least the late Oligocene-early Miocene, surface waters were relatively cool. With the continued cooling trend, the cold water mass gradually expanded northward until early Pliocene during which an intensified cooling episode resulted in a temperature minimum as evidenced by the northward shift of the silica/carbonate facies boundary. This deduction is similar to the conclusion based on ice-rated debris studies.[30][31]

Surface temperatures inferred from the oxygen and carbon isotope analyses of both benthonic and planktonic foraminerals in high-latitude marine sediments show a general continuous cooling since early Eocene with a significant temperature drop at the Oligocene/Eocene boundary. This surface water temperature appears to indicate that Antarctic ice sheet probable at this time already reached to the coast. Glaciers on the continent at higher altitudes, however, may have started to grow since the early Eocene.[32] This conclusion is in consistence with other reports documented above.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About DSDP". Deep Sea Drilling Project.
  2. ^ a b c "Ocean Drilling Program: Glomar Challenger drillship".
  3. ^ Cornford, Chris (1979). "19. Organic Petrography of Lower Cretaceous Shales at DSDP Leg 47B Site 398, Vigo Seamount, Eastern North Atlantic" (PDF). DSDP Volume XLVII Part 2. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project. Deep Sea Drilling Project. 47 Pt. 2: 523–527. doi:10.2973/dsdp.proc.47-2.119.1979. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  4. ^ "Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Volume XV" (PDF). Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) / National Ocean Sediment Coring Program, National Science Foundation. June 1972. LCCN 74-603338. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  5. ^ "Objectives of drilling on young passive continental margins; application to the Gulf of California" (PDF).[full citation needed]
  6. ^ "Plate Tectonics: Early Ideas About Continental Drift". Archived from the original on 2010-02-27. Retrieved 2009-12-10.[self-published source?]
  7. ^ "Genesis of the Tethys and the Mediterranean" (PDF).[full citation needed]
  8. ^ Heise, Elizabeth A. (1993). "Stone Soup: Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Ocean Drilling Program" (PDF). Technical Note No. 13. Ocean Drilling Program, Texas A&M University. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  9. ^ Glomar Challenger
  10. ^ a b "DSDP Phase: Glomar Challenger". IODP Texas. A&M University.
  11. ^ Chaney, Ronald C.; Almagor, Gideon (2015). Seafloor Processes and Geotechnology. CRC Press. p. 142. ISBN 9781482207415. Retrieved 2016-08-24. As part of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, a hydraulic piston corer (HPC) was developed which can be used with motion-uncompensated drill pipe [...].
  12. ^ Storms, M.A.; Nugent, Wil; Cameron, D.H. (1983-05-02). "Hydraulic Piston Coring-A New Era in Ocean Research". All Days. Houston, Texas: OTC: OTC–4622–MS. doi:10.4043/4622-MS.
  13. ^ a b "Deep Sea Drilling Project Reports and Publications". Deep Sea Drilling Project.
  14. ^ a b c Hayes, D. E. and Frakes, L. A. 1975. General synthesis, Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 28. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol 28, p 919
  15. ^ a b c Kennett, J.P., 1975.Cenozoic Paleoceanography in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, Antarctic Glaciation, and the Development of the Circumantarctic Current. DSDP Proc. Vol 29, p. 144
  16. ^ a b c d Campbell Craddock and Hollister , C. D., 1976. Geologic Evolution of the Southeast Pacific Basin. DSDP Proc. Vol. 35, p.141
  17. ^ Barker, P. F., Dalziel, Ian. W. D. and Wise, S. W ., (1977) Introduction , Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 36. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol 36, p 5
  18. ^ Frakes, L. A. and Kemp, E. M. 1973. Palaeogene continental positions and evolution of climate. In: Tarling, D. H. and Runcorn, S. K.eds. Implications of continental drift to the earth sciences. Vol 1. London, Academic Press, p 539
  19. ^ Thomson, M.A, Crakes, J.A., and Thomson J.W. 1987.Geological Evolution of Antarctica. International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences 5th, Cambridge England
  20. ^ Drewry, D. J. 1975. Initiation and growth of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Journal of the Geological Society (London), Vol 131, p 255
  21. ^ Ehrmann, W. U., and Mackensun, Andreas.1992 Sedimentological evidence for the formation of an East Antarctic ice sheet in Eocene/Oligocene time Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, & palaeoecology ISSN 0031-0182, 1992, vol. 93, no1-2, pp. 85–112
  22. ^ Fillon, R. H. 1975. Late Cenozoic Paleo-Oceanography of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Geological Society of America Bulletin, Vol 86, p 839
  23. ^ Webb, P.N and Hanwood, D.V., 1991.Late Cenozoic glacial history of the Ross embayment, Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews v.10, Issues 2-3, Page 215
  24. ^ Davies, B.J., Hambrey, M.J., Smellie, J.L., Carrivick, J.L., and Glasser, N.F., 2012. Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet evolution during the Cenozoic Era. Quaternary Science Reviews, 2012. 31(0): p. 30-66.
  25. ^ Wilson, G.S., et al ., 2012.Neogene tectonic and climatic evolution of the Western Ross Sea, Antarctica — Chronology of events from the AND-1B drill hole. Global and Planetary Change. Volumes 96–97, October–November 2012, Pages 189
  26. ^ Margolis, S. V., 1975. Paleoglacial History of Antarctica Inferred from Analysis of Leg 29 Sediments by Scanning-Electron Microscopy. DSDP Proc. Vol. 29 p.130
  27. ^ Ivany.L.C. et al. 2006.Evidence for an earliest Oligocene ice sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula.Geology (2006) 34 (5): 377–380
  28. ^ Wilson, G.S., et al ., 2012. Late Neogene chronostratigraphy and depositional environments on the Antarctic Margin: New results from the ANDRILL McMurdo Ice Shelf Project.Global and Planetary Change.Volumes 96–97, October–November 2012, Pages 1
  29. ^ Passchier, S., et al., 2011. Early and middle Miocene Antarctic glacial history from the sedimentary facies distribution in the AND-2A drill hole, Ross Sea, Antarctica. GSA Bulletin (2011) 123 (11-12): 2352–2365.
  30. ^ Kemp, E. M.and others. 1975. Paleoclimatic significance of diachronous biogenic facies, Leg 28, Deep Sea Drilling Project. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol 28, p 909
  31. ^ Kennett, J. P. and Vella, P. 1975. Late Cenozoic planktonic foraminifera and paleoceanography at DSDP Site 284 in the cool sub-tropical south Pacific. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol 29, p 769
  32. ^ Shackleton, N. J. and Kennett, J. P. 1975. Paleotemperature history of the Cenozoic and the initiation of Antarctic glaciation: oxygen and carbon isotope analyses in DSDP Sites 277, 279, 281. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol 29, p 743

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