I have spent the last two weeks at several different events celebrating the 50thyear of scientific ocean drilling. I have previously written a very brief overview of the history of scientific ocean drilling which you can read here: http://moocs.southampton.ac.uk/oceans/2018/05/23/a-brief-history-of-ocean-drilling-1-3/
Believe it or not but the first attempts to collect sediment from below the seafloor captivated the public in a not too dissimilar way to space exploration. At the time it seemed impossible that you could go through 4000 m of water and then drill through the seafloor and retrieve sediments. And then if we got there who knew what we would find! J. F. Kennedy summarises the significance of this quite nicely and also demonstrates the interest surrounding these first attempts:
“…..a remarkable achievement and an historic landmark in our scientific and engineering progress. The people of the United States can take pride not only in the accomplishment but in the fact they have supported this basic scientific exploration.”
~ J. F. Kennedy
We have made huge advances since and now our drilling attempts are much more successful and carefully targeted.
I have previously neglected to talk about the many accomplishments possible through scientific ocean drilling and what it has done for you. Inspired greatly by several talks from Dr. Roz Coggon (Southampton) from the last few weeks here is my attempt at summarising the importance of scientific ocean drilling to us all……
The achievements: What has scientific ocean drilling done for you?
After only five decades, scientific ocean drilling has allowed us to prove plate tectonic theory, to reconstruct continental break up and the opening and closing of oceans, to understand mountain building processes, to understand frequency of natural hazards (including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis), to reconstruct the frequency, magnitude and impacts of meteorites, to constrain mass extinction events, understand better the structure of Earth, reconstruct past climates and ice sheet history and sea level, to link the oceans and land and to better understand hydrothermal systems. And this is by no means an exhaustive list!
There are plenty of great resources from IODP here: http://joidesresolution.org
My thank you note to scientific ocean drilling
Simply put, my research would not be possible without both scientific ocean drilling and international collaboration. You can read my full confession here but I get to explore, to discover, to travel time! How many people are lucky enough to say they travel time for a living?! And I am only able to do this because of the collaborative work of scientific ocean drilling to recover long sediment cores. So thanks to all those who have and continue to work together to recover this incredible records of Earth history. More than that though, being involved in the scientific ocean drilling community has opened up many opportunities for me and through these I have been able to travel all around the world and meet, work with and learn from many incredible people, finding role models and friends everywhere I go.
Unfortunately, scientific ocean drilling rarely attracts media attention nowadays, or at least not in the same way as exploring space for example. But it is important to remember we know far less about the seafloor than the surface of the moon and there is more life in the oceans than stars in the universe! And that far beyond the science, scientific ocean drilling demonstrates that the seemingly impossible becomes possible when through international collaboration there is a collective effort to achieve something . So here’s hoping for (at least!) another 50 years of scientific ocean drilling and international collaboration! We have discovered so much already yet there is still so much more to explore and secrets to uncover buried beneath the seafloor!
To finish up and bring this back nicely to the theme of week 4 of the course I want to leave you with one last question to think about….
What story do we want to leave locked up in the sediments?
The oceans are great story tellers and curators of Earth’s history.
By taking a peak below the seafloor we can reconstruct the history of submarine landslides, and volcanic eruptions, the pattern and rate of seafloor spreading, the climate enjoyed by the dinosaurs and the vegetation present when the humans took their very first steps on planet Earth.
Together the science community is piecing together, chapter by chapter, the story of Earth. Hundreds of years from now, scientists will be able to do the same, to piece together the story of our generation from the imprint we leave on the planet which will get locked up in sediments accumulating on the seafloor.
And so, again, the question I want to ask is…..
What story do you want to leave behind for future scientists to find?