Espace presseThema

Europe Explores the Deeps

IODP: four letters which bring together three major partners (Japan, the United States, and Europe) to pursue an Integrated Ocean Drilling Program in hopes of making major discoveries in climate, the dynamics of the earth's crust, and the role of the biosphere hidden beneath the sea bed, as well as looking for new reserves of energy.

The IODP welcomes Europe as a partner in its exploration beneath the sea bed. Starting in 2003 Europe became an active participant in this programme, not only through financial contribution but also with by contributing know-how and technology.
US and Japanese1 ships have been ensuring drilling in the deepest waters, while Europe takes care of shallow drilling (less than 200 meters of depth). “Sampling in shallow water is tricky business” explains John Ludden, Director of the CNRS' Petrographic and Geochemical Research Center, “since there is a lot of loose, unstable sand in the sediments being cored”. But shallow cores are likely to yield valuable information about climate change, such as the samples being taken of the coral reefs of the Tahiti lagoon where a change in sea level brought on by a change in temperature will trigger in turn increased coral growth.
European participants face another challenge, that of drilling in the Arctic. Three ice-breakers accompany the drilling ship, itself an ice-breaker, into these hostile waters. Since the ship must remain motionless in order to preserve the integrity of the drill string, its escorts are kept busy pushing around large blocks of drifting ice. “Arctic core drilling is vitally important”, says John Ludden, “since this region controls the earth's climate”.

Wide Fields of Investigation
The IODP framework includes a number of other research programmes such as core sampling in seismic zones off the coast of Japan or in the Aegean Sea. Data like this is of great use to specialists wrestling with the complexities of earthquake mechanisms.
IODP's precursor, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), explored the portion of the biosphere down to a kilometer below the ocean floor, and IODP projects are furthering that research. Bacteria resistant to huge pressures would be a great find for improving chemical and biochemical processes. Their usefulness, however, depends on getting them to the surface still under pressure and keeping them out of contact with any topside bacteria.
Finally, better stratigraphic representations of the slopes on the sides of oceans could prove valuable in oil and gas exploration. By the same token, much attention at IODP is being focused on naturally-occurring paraffins which form on the ocean floor by crystallising methane, a potentially huge and untapped source of energy. They may in addition, by dint of their inherent instability, contribute to the mysterious disappearances of ships within the Bermuda triangle. More on this to come...




John Ludden
Centre de recherches pétrographiques et géochimiques (CRPG)
Institut national des sciences de l'Univers, CNRS

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