May, 2018

Dear U.S. Ocean Drilling Community,

Congratulations to us, the ocean drilling community, as we celebrate 50 years of scientific ocean drilling. It is not a stretch to say that over the past 50 years, scientific ocean drilling has been the primary mechanism by which researchers have studied the history of Earth system change, and it remains so today. Ocean drilling’s longevity is a testament to the vision and leadership within our community and its legacy continues to grow because of your vigilance in implementing technological advancements that have improved core quality and recovery.

To prepare for the next phase of IODP (2019-2023), my predecessors John Jaeger and Beth Christensen organized and convened the JOIDES Resolution Assessment Workshop (JRAW) last fall. More than 80 scientists met in Denver over three days to distill the input from 876 survey responses submitted by the greater ocean drilling community. The JRAW report has provided valuable input to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and will assist NSF in making the case to the National Science Board for continued funding of the JOIDES Resolution through 2023. I encourage you to take a moment to read through it (https://usoceandiscovery.org/workshop-jrassessment/).

High-quality scientific proposals have been the hallmark of the previous 50 years of ocean drilling. So too, the future of ocean drilling depends on the continued submission of excellent proposals. Seismic imaging of the sub-seafloor is the lifeblood for our community; it is the only means by which we can study deep crustal environments, identify drilling targets, and assess potential safety hazards. NSF recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (https://www.nsf.gov/ publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf18061) outlining a new approach for marine seismic capabilities to the U.S. research community. While still supporting a broad portfolio of marine seismic research, the letter announces that NSF is planning to phase out the Marcus G. Langseth, a unique workhorse of the U.S. academic fleet for seismic data acquisition. Portable seismic systems on UNOLS vessels can provide imaging for shallow objectives and collaboration with our international partners can provide some deep capabilities. However, the IODP Forum has noted that insufficient capability exists globally and within the U.S., and the Langseth remains the sole global academic vessel capable of imaging deep crustal objectives.

Make no mistake, NSF’s decision regarding the Langseth and the provisional plans for seismic data acquisition will make it more difficult to obtain these critical data to sustain ocean drilling into the future. As a community, we need to work with NSF over the next two years to develop a plan that, at a minimum, keeps seismic data acquisition at the status quo. As your representatives, USAC will continue the dialog with NSF, voicing your concerns as a community, and urging NSF to remain committed to ocean drilling via the funding of marine seismic data acquisition proposals. As the ocean drilling community enters the next 50 years of exploration of the Earth beneath the seafloor, we should not only heed the lessons of the past, but also look forward to deployment of the most cutting-edge technology. This includes not only new developments in drilling, but also state-of-the-art imaging of new subsurface targets in advance of drilling.

James Wright
Chair, U.S. Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling