International Ocean Drilling to Follow Simpler Structure

A decision by the United States to leave an international consortium for ocean drilling doesn't mean that every country must now fend for itself. That's the message from a meeting last week in Granada, Spain, at which the participants drew up a new framework for the operation of ocean drilling platforms.

The framework is clearly intended to relieve worries, first reported by Science, that the spirit of international cooperation embodied by the ongoing Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) would fade when the United States begins operating its drillship independently in September 2013. For starters, the name of the new enterprise—the International Ocean Discovery Program (also IODP)—is only slightly different than the old moniker. Countries would still become member partners in IODP; a single scientific advisory structure would still council on the best use of drilling platforms to achieve the previously formulated science plan for 2013 and beyond; and a shared management structure would remain at its core. "Clearly we're not 'going it alone,' " says Rodey Batiza of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. ocean drilling funding agency. "We're doing it with our partners."

Even so, the operation of the new IODP will be quite different. The United States, currently the co-leader of IODP with Japan, hopes to save a bundle on operating costs. The current IODP central management office, funded at $20 million per year, would become the "support office," funded at $2 million to $3 million per year, according to Batiza. And instead of funding for the U.S., Japanese, and occasionally-leased European drilling platforms coming from a single pot into which each member pays, contributions will flow directly to the operator of each platform. Drilling will depend on whatever funding an operator receives from its own government (or governments) plus any money its drilling program can attract from other IODP members.

A dearth of funding under the current IODP will limit the U.S. drillship, the JOIDES Resolution, to operating only 6 months in 2012. Batiza thinks the new business model will allow the JR to spend much more time at sea and achieve near-fulltime operation. "We're hoping our international partners recognize the value the JR will contribute," he says.