By Deborah Inkpen
Dr. Rick Hiscott, Earth Sciences, was the envy of all his
shipmates when he “jumped ship” and headed straight
home upon arriving in St. John’s port. Dr. Hiscott
was the only Canadian scientist on board the JOIDES
Resolution, a sophisticated ocean-going research drill
ship and floating laboratory used by the international Ocean
Drilling Program (ODP).
Dr. Hiscott, chair of the Canada ODP Council, has been aboard
the Resolution for two months working 12-hour shifts
daily, so arriving back in St. John’s was a welcome
stop. The ship’s port call in St. John's from Sept.
6-9 came after the final ODP expedition, known as Leg 210.
On this expedition, scientists attempted to drill and recover
a continuous set of rock samples from a hole 2,200 meters
below the seafloor and 6,750 meters below sea level in the
central Newfoundland Basin – the deepest ever drilled
during the 20-year program.
The ship and its crew of 45 scientists and technicians from
around the world spent their summer east of the Grand Banks
studying the structure and evolution of what geologists
call a non-volcanic rifted margin. Dr. Hiscott’s research
consisted of looking at rock samples to determine the way
in which the Iberian Peninsula and Newfoundland split apart
and separated about 125 million years ago. The vessel maintained
a fixed position about 300 kilometres southeast of the Hibernia
site, and used specialized drilling equipment to retrieve
about 800 meters of rock cores including the deepest sediments
and rocks related to the break-up of Europe and North America
that created the Atlantic Ocean.
Outfitted with modern laboratory, drilling, and navigation
equipment, the ship is 143 meters long and 21 meters wide
and its derrick rises 61.5 meters above the water line.
The drilling system can handle 9,150 meters of drill pipe,
long enough for drilling in 99.9 per cent of the world's
oceans. It drills cores – long cylinders of sediment
and rock – in water depths up to 8.2 kilometres.
A computer-controlled system regulates 12 powerful thrusters
in addition to the main propulsion system. Using an acoustic
beacon set near the drill site on the sea floor, this system
keeps the ship stabilized over the drill hole despite wind
and waves. Pieces of drill pipe are threaded together and
lowered from the steel derrick through the moon pool, a
seven-meter-wide hole in the bottom of the ship. A heave
compensator in the derrick acts as a giant shock absorber,
so that the up and down movements of the ship are not transferred
to the drill pipe. Thus cores can be cut and lifted smoothly.
“By analyzing cores of sediment and rock throughout
the 20-year Ocean Drilling Program, scientists have made
a remarkable series of discoveries and answered many important
scientific questions concerning climate change, geologic
hazards, distribution of microbes below the sea floor, and
origin of natural resources,” said Dr. Hiscott. “However,
ODP has now terminated operations, and will be succeeded
by an expanded program with two drill ships, called the
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). Canadian scientists
have so far been unsuccessful in their attempts to secure
funding to join IODP. Memorial and a number of other Canadian
research institutions are actively engaged in chasing new
funding so Canadians can participate in future scientific
Scientific leadership on Leg 210 was provided by co-chief
scientists Jean-Claude Sibuet, Institut français
de recerche pour l’exploitation de la mer (IFREMER),
and Brian Tucholke, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
assisted by ODP staff scientist Adam Klaus of Texas A&M
University. Dr. Tucholke delivered an Oil and Gas Development
Partnership (OGDP) lecture on the expedition on Sept. 8
at the university.
ODP has been a highly successful international partnership
of scientists and research institutions organized to study
the evolution and structure of the Earth. It is funded through
Oct. 1, 2003, principally by the U.S. National Science Foundation,
with substantial contributions from 21 other countries,