U.S. Ocean Drilling Ship Returns to the Sea

The deep-sea scientific drilling ship JOIDES Resolution, the JR for short, has finally left the shipyards. The newly renovated vessel departed Singapore on Sunday, marking the end of an unprecedented 3-year hiatus in U.S. drilling.

The demands of an exploration-crazed oil industry created a shipyard backlog that delayed the $130 million renovation of the 20-year veteran of scientific drilling for the better part of a year (Science, October 24 2008.) But on March 5, the ship is scheduled to set off from Honolulu on the first of a year’s worth of expeditions to sample the sea floor and monitor processes there.

Things are looking up across the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, says David Divins of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C. March is also the scheduled return to action for the Japanese drill ship Chikyu, in the yards to repair damaged thrusters used to keep the ship over a drill hole.

And plans are moving ahead for the JR to spend more time at sea than before, Divins says. IODP has funds for only 8 months of drilling, so the program is looking for oil companies to use the ship for drilling targets of shared interests. If that plan does not come together in time, Divins adds, South Korea has expressed interest in having the JR drill for exotic methane hydrates.