Integrated Ocean Drilling Program

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Integrated Ocean Drilling Program
Established 2003 (2003)
Field of research

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) was an international marine research program. The program uses heavy drilling equipment mounted aboard ships to monitor and sample sub-seafloor environments. With this research, the IODP documents environmental change, Earth processes and effects, the biosphere, solid earth cycles, and geodynamics.[1]

The program begins a new 10-year phase with the International Ocean Discovery Program, from the end of 2013.


The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) brings together scientists from different countries and scientific disciplines to conduct investigations of the Earth deep below the sea-floor. IODP gives scientists the opportunity to:

  1. recover geological records and rock samples
  2. investigate and document ocean- and climate-change through time
  3. explore the presence of primitive life below the seafloor
  4. verify remote, near-seafloor observatories
  5. gain understanding of how tectonic plates move and recycle themselves into the deep mantle

Focus on Earth[edit]

IODP was conceived in 2003 as a 10-year Earth science and research program. IODP scientists are drawn from universities and institutes located all across its member countries. Two previous scientific ocean drilling programs, Deep Sea Drilling Project and Ocean Drilling Program, generated abundant information about Earth’s dynamic nature including tectonic processes, ocean circulation, climate change, continental rifting, and ocean basin formation. Today, scientific ocean drilling continues to provide scientists with in-situ studies of critical processes related to Earth’s short-term change and long-term variability. IODP provides diverse drilling resources to meet specific requirements of each planned drilling project.

IODP focuses on ocean basins to study the interdep processes with particular emphases on factors controlling climate change, the vast circulation of fluids within Earth’s crust, the nature of life on and within Earth, and the dynamics of tropospheric formation and recycling.

Navigating the route to discovery[edit]

Scientific ocean drilling represents the longest running and most successful international collaboration among the Earth sciences. Scientific ocean drilling began in 1961 with the first sample of oceanic crust recovered aboard the CUSS 1, a modified U.S. Navy barge. American author John Steinbeck, also an amateur oceanographer, documented Project Mohole for LIFE Magazine.

Legacy programs[edit]

The Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP), established in June 1966, operated the Glomar Challenger in drilling and coring operations in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The Challenger’s coring operations enabled DSDP to provide the next intellectual step in verifying the hypothesis of plate tectonics associated with seafloor spreading, by dating basal sediments on transects away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Deep Ocean Explorer: Glomar Challenger
Total distance penetrated below sea floor 325,548 m
Total interval cored 170,043 m
Total core recovered and stored 97,056 m
Overall core recovery 57%
Number of core samples recovered 19,119
Number of sites investigated 624
Deepest penetration into basaltic ocean crust 1,714 m
Maximum penetration into basaltic ocean crust 1,350 m
Deepest water (Leg 60, Site 461A) 7,044 m
Total distance traveled (nautical miles) 375,632

In June 1970, the "Challenger's" DSDP engineers devised a way to replace worn drill bits and then re-enter boreholes for deeper drilling while in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York, in 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) of water. This required the use of sonar scanning equipment and a large-scale re-entry cone.

Process-oriented Earth studies continued from 1985 until 2003 aboard the JOIDES Resolution, which replaced the Glomar Challenger in January 1985 as DSDP morphed into the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). The JOIDES Resolution is named for the 200-year-old HMS Resolution which explored the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica under the command of Captain James Cook.

The Ocean Drilling Program contributed significantly to increased scientific understanding of Earth history, climate change, plate tectonics, natural resources, and geohazards. ODP discoveries include validation of:

  1. fluids circulating through the ocean floor;
  2. the formation of gigantic volcanic plateaus at phenomenal rates unknown today;
  3. natural methane frozen deep within marine sediments as gas hydrate;
  4. a microbial community living deep within oceanic crust;
  5. climate change cycles

IODP funding agencies[edit]

National consortia and government funding agencies support IODP science and drilling platform operations. Participation in IODP is proportional to investment in the program.

Lead agencies[edit]

Two lead agencies formally established IODP. In April 2003, officials from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they agreed to form and jointly operate the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Japan’s interest in the post-ODP era was signified when “Ocean Drilling in the 21st Century”(OD21) was established in 1994. OD21 included plans for construction of a state-of-the-art, riser-equipped scientific drilling vessel capable of reaching Earth’s mantle. A series of international meetings explored how this goal could be integrated with other scientific objectives expressed by scientific communities in the United States, Europe, and the People’s Republic of China. An IODP office at NSF is responsible for administering commingled funds from NSF, MEXT, and other IODP members to support IODP science-operating costs.

Contributing member[edit]

The European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) was established in December 2003 with 13 European countries to represent the European contribution in IODP. The consortium has since grown into a collaborative group of 17 European nations (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and The United Kingdom) and Canada that together comprise an IODP-funding agency. Working alongside Japan and the United States, ECORD provides the IODP scientific community with access to mission-specific platforms (chosen to fulfill specific scientific objectives). These platforms usually have limited space on board for labs and scientists, and require an onshore science meeting to describe, process, and analyze the sediment samples collected immediately following a drilling expedition.

Associate members[edit]

In April 2004, the People’s Republic of China joined IODP as an Associate Member through sponsorship of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). China’s participation in IODP has given the Chinese marine science community a new impetus and increased their opportunity for deep-sea research. Chinese scientists participate in research expeditions and represent China’s interests in the IODP Science Advisory Structure.

The Republic of Korea joined IODP as an Associate Member in June 2006 through the sponsorship of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM). South Korea’s memorandum of understanding with the Lead Agencies created the Interim Asian Consortium. KIGAM, the charter member of the new consortium, is expected to draw other Asian countries into its funding agency.

Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Government of India joined the IODP in 2008 as an Associate member. Since then, the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research(NCAOR), Goa has been designated by India to look after all IODP related activities in India (IODP-India). In this direction, an international workshop on IODP drilling in Indian Ocean was organised in Goa during October 17–18, 2011. The workshop was co-hosted by IODP-MI and ANZIC.

Hundreds of international Earth and ocean scientists participate in IODP on a voluntary basis. Participation takes many forms: submission of a drilling proposal; sailing on an expedition; participation in an advisory capacity; attendance at a planning workshop or topical symposium. The program’s central management office, IODP-MI, coordinates an integrated work plan between and among all IODP organizational partners. An Annual Program Plan is written each fiscal year. Included in each year’s plan are objectives and tasks necessary for drilling vessel operation, from science coordination to publications, data management, and outreach.

Uniquely IODP[edit]

IODP distinguishes itself from its legacy programs by employing multiple drilling technologies/ platforms and science/drilling operators to acquire sediment and rock samples and to install monitoring instrumentation beneath the seafloor. Samples and data collected during IODP drilling expeditions are available to scientists and teachers on an open-access basis, once members of the expedition parties have completed their initial studies.

Planning IODP drilling: science advisory structure[edit]

Drilling proposal process[edit]

Drilling proposals originate with science proponents, often researchers in geology, geophysics, microbiology, paleontology, or seismology. Once submitted to IODP it is carefully evaluated by the Science Advisory Structure (SAS), a group of review panels. Only those proposals judged as of the greatest value to the science community and can be successfully realized are scheduled for implementation.SAS panels provide advice on drilling proposals to both proponents and IODP management. Drilling proposals are accepted twice a year, in April and October, and can be submitted to IODP electronically via their website.

The science plan[edit]

A ten-year program plan called the Initial Science Plan (ISP) guides IODP investigation. Specific scientific themes are emphasized in the ISP:

  1. investigation into the deep biosphere and subseafloor life;
  2. climate change;
  3. solid Earth cycles;
  4. geodynamics

The ISP authors' agenda seeks to develop better understandings of:

  • the earthquake-generating zone beneath convergent continental margins;
  • the complex microbial ecosystem that exists beneath the seafloor;
  • the nature of gas hydrates that lie beneath continental margins;
  • climate history, extreme climates;
  • rapid climate change;
  • the role of continental break-up in sedimentary basin formation;
  • the formation of volcanic rifted margins and oceanic plateaus through time; and
  • drilling to Earth’s mantle to examine and monitor a complete section of oceanic crust

Tools critical to these goals include a riser-equipped drilling vessel, a riserless vessel, additional platforms suited to mission specific expeditions, enhanced downhole measurement devices, and long-term monitoring instrumentation.

Engineering proposals[edit]

An engineering proposal submission process, initiated in April 2007, facilitates the acquisition of existing or latent technology to be used in future IODP operations.

Science and drilling operators[edit]

Drilling operations are conducted and managed by three IODP Implementing Organizations (IOs):

  • USIO, the United States Implementing Organization, carries out expeditions on the riserless drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution;
  • ESO, the ECORD Science Operator, manages mission specific expeditions on various platforms;
  • CDEX, the Center for Deep Earth Exploration, manages operations aboard the riser-equipped drilling vessel Chikyu.

Each drilling expedition is led by a pair of co-chief scientists, with a team of scientists supported by an IO staff scientist. Each IO provides a combination of services: technical, operational, and financial management; logging; laboratory; core repository; data management; and publication. Although each IO is responsible for its own platform operations and performance, its science operations are funded by the Lead Agencies.

Drilling vessels and platforms[edit]

IODP employs two dedicated drilling vessels, each sponsored by a Lead Agency and managed by their respective IO's:

JOIDES Resolution - riserless[edit]

Main article: JOIDES Resolution

The U.S.-sponsored drilling vessel was operated throughout the Ocean Drilling Program and the first phase of IODP. The vessel then underwent a rebuild, allowing for increased laboratory space; improved drilling, coring, and sampling capacity; and enhanced health, safety, and environmental protection systems on board.[2]

Chikyu - riser-equipped[edit]

Main article: Chikyu Hakken

Japan began building a state-of-the-art scientific drilling vessel for research in 2001 with the intent of reaching the Earth’s mantle and drill into an active seismogenic zone. The resulting drilling vessel, Chikyu (Japanese for "Planet Earth") features a riser drilling system, a dynamic positioning system, and a high-density mud circulation system to prevent borehole collapse during drilling, among other assets. Chikyu can berth 150 people, cruise at 12 knots, and drill more than 7,000 meters below the seafloor in water depths exceeding 2,000 meters. Chikyu was damaged during the tsunami of March 11, 2011, and was out-of-service for several months.[3] D/V Chikyu has since returned to ocean drilling in April 2012, resuming IODP operations.

Mission-specific platforms[edit]

ECORD commissions ships on an expedition-by-expedition basis, depending on specific scientific requirements and environment. ECORD contracted the use of three icebreakers for the Arctic Coring Expedition (2004), drilling vessels diving for use in shallow Tahitian (2005) and Australian waters (2010), where scientists sampled fossil coral reefs to investigate the rise in global sea levels since the last ice age and a liftboat for sampling the New Jersey Shallow Shelf (2009). Mission-specific expeditions require substantial flexibility.

Extending IODP to the science community[edit]

Publications, data management, online tools, and databases are in development to support information- and resource-sharing, so as to expand the ranks of scientists who engage in ocean drilling investigations.

Publication and data management[edit]

IODP makes its publications freely available online and is creating a data management system that will integrate core and laboratory data collected by all three IOs, and the two IODP legacy programs. A web-based search system will eventually aggregate post-expedition data and related publications. Requests for data and samples can be made online.

Site Survey Data Bank (SSDB)[edit]

A web-based Site Survey Data Bank enables proponents to access and deposit large amounts of data required to document potential drill sites into a preliminary proposal to be submitted to and reviewed by IODP. New drilling proposals are submitted biannually to IODP through its web portal.

Core repositories[edit]

Three IODP core repositories, in Bremen, Germany (IODP Bremen Core Repository), College Station, Texas (IODP Gulf Coast Repository), and Kochi, Japan, archive cores based on geographical origin. Scientists may visit any one of the facilities for onsite research or request a loan for teaching purposes/analysis. Archived cores include not only IODP samples, but also those retrieved in the two IODP legacy programs (DSDP and ODP).


  1. ^ IODP mission page
  2. ^ Riserless drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution :
  3. ^ Japanese Research Ship Damaged by Tsunami

External links[edit]