April 3, 2022

A reading list on scientific ocean drilling for university undergraduate students

Posted by Laura Guertin

In my preparations to sail on the JOIDES Resolution for IODP Expedition 390, I’ve been doing a “deep dive” into finding interesting articles on the past, present, and future of scientific ocean drilling. As I’ve come across several articles that I can share with the students in my college classroom, I thought I would compile and share this list so that and anyone with a general interest in scientific ocean drilling could read, learn, and share.

Please add any additional recommended materials in the “Reply” box below.



Articles with an overview of scientific ocean drilling

Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far (O’Connell, 2018), The Conversation. Over a half-century, scientific ocean drilling has proved the theory of plate tectonics, created the field of paleoceanography and redefined how we view life on Earth by revealing an enormous variety and volume of life in the deep marine biosphere. And much more remains to be learned.

photo of ship on water

JOIDES Resolution. Attribution: IODP. Source: Wikipedia.

Special Issue on Scientific Ocean Drilling: Looking to the Future (Oceanography, volume 32, number 1, March 2019, open access). From the Foreword: “The focus of drilling expanded from an effort to recover samples that could resolve hypotheses about Earth’s crust (the nature of the Moho, plate tectonics, and global volcanism) to one that addresses hypotheses about the history of the ocean itself, about the interactions between the ocean, ice sheets, mountain building, and climate, and now to one that studies the coevolution of the ocean, oceanic crust, and life.” Although the title of this Special Issue mentions the future, there are several articles that are an exploration of the past and present of scientific ocean drilling, including:

Fifty Years of Scientific Ocean Drilling (Becker et al., 2019). Abstract: Nearly a century after the first systematic study of the global ocean and seafloor by HMS Challenger (1871–1876), US scientists began to drill beneath the seafloor to unlock the secrets of the ~70% of Earth’s surface covered by the seas. Fifty years of scientific ocean drilling by teams of international partners has provided unparalleled advancements in Earth sciences. Here, we briefly review the history, impacts, and scientific achievements of five decades of coordinated scientific ocean drilling.”

Holes in the Bottom of the Sea: History, Revolutions, and Future Opportunities (O’Connell, 2019), GSA Today. No other international scientific collaboration has contributed as much to our knowledge of Earth processes as scientific ocean drilling (SOD). These contributions include geophysical surveys, core samples, borehole well logs, and sub-seafloor observatories. After more than half a century, involving thousands of scientists from around the world, SOD has been instrumental in developing three geoscience revolutions: (1) plate tectonics, (2) paleoceanography, and (3) the deep marine biosphere. Without SOD, it is unlikely that our current understanding of Earth processes could have developed…This program is needed in the future for geoscientists to continue exploring our planet to understand how it functions and to create predictive models.

60 days in Iceberg Alley, drilling for marine sediment to decipher Earth’s climate 3 million years ago (O’Connell, 2019), The Conversation. The JOIDES Resolution is the only ship in the world with the drilling tools to collect both soft sediment and hard rock from the ocean – material that we recover in long cylinders called cores. (*an excellent overview of what happens on an expedition and who participates)

Science at its Core, EOS issue (July 2021), “whether made of ice, sediment, or permafrost, drill samples are a ticket to our planet’s prologue.” This issue looks at the collection, study, and storage of cores—from sediment drilled up from the age of the dinosaurs to tree rings as big as a house.


Expedition results (examples from EOS)

Getting to the Bottom of Slow-Motion Earthquakes (Chakravorty, 2020), EOS. For close to 20 years, slow-motion earthquakes have been an enigma. Core samples provide new clues to their origins.

In Search of Life Under the Seafloor (Früh-Green & Orcutt, 2019), EOS. A multinational research team drilled into the seafloor to see whether chemical processes in exposed shallow mantle rocks could generate nutrients to support life in the subsurface.

The Search for the Severed Head of the Himalayas (Joel, 2019), EOS. To unearth the very first sediments to erode from the Himalayas, a team of scientists drilled beneath the Bay of Bengal.

Investigations of Shallow Slow Slip Offshore of New Zealand (Harris et al., 2016). EOS. Recent and upcoming studies of the Hikurangi margin east of New Zealand shed light on previously undetectable tectonic movements.


Planning for the future

An Ambitious Vision for the Future of Scientific Ocean Drilling (2022), EOS. Scientific ocean drilling is an enduring paragon of global research, advancing knowledge of Earth and informing scientists and educators for 55 years. A new road map plots the way to further discovery.

Australia–New Zealand Plan for Future Scientific Ocean Drilling (Coffin et al., 2019), EOS. Australian–New Zealand IODP Consortium Ocean Planet Workshop; Canberra, Australia, 14–16 April 2019.

The Future of Scientific Drilling in the North Pacific and Arctic (Worthington et al., 2019). International Ocean Discovery Program Workshop; Mount Hood, Oregon, 25–27 September 2018.

Keeping Our Focus on the Subseafloor (Bangs & Austin, 2017). Hard-pressed funding agencies wonder whether marine seismic facilities are worth the investment. A recent survey gives a resounding yes.

Scientific Ocean Drilling Charts a New Course (Humphris & Koppers, 2015), EOS. The International Ocean Discovery Program plans drilling expeditions for 2016 and 2017 while increasing efficiencies in ship scheduling and operations.A

Transformational Path Forward for the Ocean Sciences Community (Conover & Bronk, 2015), EOS. A new Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences balances rising facilities costs with research needs. The ocean science community should unite behind the report’s resounding central message.

Scientific Ocean Drilling: Accomplishments and Challenges (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2011). This book reviews the scientific accomplishments of U.S.-supported scientific ocean drilling over the past four decades and also assesses the potential for transformative discoveries for the next proposed phase of scientific ocean drilling, which is scheduled to run from 2013 to 2023.



Exploring Earth by Scientific Ocean Drilling: 2050 Science Framework

cover of report 2050 science framework, with round image sliced into images of earth systemsAlthough not written for an undergraduate student audience, the 2050 framework is valuable to introduce to students. Available as a 2-page pamphlet, 12-page summary, and 124-page document (all available as PDFs online), the framework guides multidisciplinary subseafloor research into the interconnected processes that characterize the complex Earth system and shape our planet’s future.

This framework serves a critical role in “guiding scientists on the important research frontiers that scientific ocean drilling should pursue and often that only can be achieved through scientific ocean drilling.” Important for students and non-scientists is the presentation of material that shows how “the framework focuses on the many ways in which scientific ocean drilling will increase our understanding of the fundamental connections among Earth system components while addressing a range of natural and human-caused environmental challenges facing society.”

Educators are also encouraged to explore IODP’s educational resources that have been categorized around the Strategic Objectives of the 2050 Science Framework. Explore the materials at: https://joidesresolution.org/for-educators-2050scienceframework/

pie detailing the strategic objectives in 7 categories

2050 Science Framework’s 7 strategic objectives, from page 8 of full report.



H.M.S. Challenger, DSDP Leg 3, IODP Exp. 390, outreach on the JR

Sketch of HMS Challenger, H.M.S. 'Challenger' Preparing to Sound, 1872

H.M.S. ‘Challenger’ Preparing to Sound, 1872
From Reports of the ‘Challenger’ Expedition. Image in public domain from Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.

For those interested in materials for Expedition 390 where I participated as part of the science party, these are links to the related blog posts on the expedition and historic connection to H.M.S. Challenger here on this blog GeoEd Trek.