After 20 years of service, the JOIDES Resolution, the pioneering scientific ocean drilling vessel that has allowed scientists to retrieve samples of the Earth’s crust and sediments from deep beneath the ocean, is getting an extreme makeover.
The new and improved vessel, which promises to improve the quality and rate of core samples brought up from the deep, will be virtually unrecognizable from the old ship and will be given a new name. Project directors estimate the new ship will be ready for science expeditions in mid-2007.
Scientists have conducted 122 expeditions onboard the 469-foot (143-meter) JOIDES Resolution, first under the Ocean Drilling Program (1985-2003) and now the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP, 2003-present).
Over the ship’s 20-year history, the core samples it has recovered have helped scientists validate the theory of plate tectonics, provided extensive information about Earth’s past climate and recovered evidence of the catastrophic asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The crew positions the ship, which sports a 200-foot (61-meter) derrick, over the drilling site using 12 computer-controlled thrusters and can suspend over 30,000 feet (9150 meters) of drill pipe in the quest for core samples, which are long tubes of sediments or rock that are retrieved through the drill string.
“The enhanced vessel will greatly increase the efficiency and scope of drillship scientific operations, allowing IODP scientists to continue expanding our knowledge of the Earth,” said Jamie Allan, program director for IODP at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is funding the effort.
“To get a sense for the kinds of improvements, imagine how Steve Austin was rebuilt to become the Six Million-Dollar Man,” said Steve Bohlen, president of Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), Inc. The JOI Alliance is the U.S. implementing organization for IODP, and is responsible for the vessel ‘s science operations.
The JOI Alliance is funded by NSF and consists of JOI, a consortium of leading oceanographic institutions which has the principal responsibility for overseeing programmatic, contractual, and fiscal management activities; Texas A&M University, which subcontracts drill ship operations, conducts platform-related tool development, and provides expedition staffing, logistics, engineering development, outfitting of shipboard laboratories, shipboard- and shorebased-curation of samples, and distribution of core samples and data; and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, which provides downhole logging tools and support and log data processing, distribution, and database services.
JOI has a 10-year, $626 million contract with NSF, signed in Sept. 2003, after a competitive bid process, to provide integrated science services in support of the U.S. drillship for IODP. Under the contract, this drillship was selected in open competition, with an NSF-approved contract, signed in Dec. 2005, between Overseas Drilling Limited, the provider of the vessel, and Texas A&M University Research Foundation, science operator and member of the JOI Alliance, for $288 million.
During its history, the vessel has been adapted and upgraded with minor modifications several times. But the scale of the conversion planned now will be far beyond any past upgrades, said Allan, “and the finished vessel will meet the expanding needs of ocean-drilling scientists for a generation to come.”
There will be at least a 50 percent increase in laboratory space aboard ship, allowing for a greater variety of instrumentation that onboard scientists can use to analyze cores samples while at sea.
An enhanced drilling instrumentation system, a sub-sea camera system with improved handling, and a new drill string with upgraded drilling tools will allow the crew to retrieve core samples faster and with better quality. Changes to the ship’s hull and machinery will improve fuel-efficiency and increase transit speed, allowing for more time “on station.”
Gone are the days of crowded four-person staterooms and shared bathrooms down the corridor, much to the delight of the scientists and crew who live aboard the vessel during expeditions, which last two months on average. Instead, rooms on the enhanced ship will be double occupancy with an adjacent bathroom. During the conversion, space for 23 additional berths will be added. Noise and vibration throughout the ship will be diminished and there will even be a new recreation area with a sauna.
The dawn for IODP continues to grow brighter. With the construction of the Japanese-built drilling vessel Chikyu (Japanese for Earth,) scheduled to begin IODP expeditions in 2007, the new and improved U.S.-sponsored vessel will also join the team of IODP ships as the international research community begins a new phase of expeditions and discovery.