Researchers at the University of Newcastle will join international colleagues in a unique research program drilling up to 12 kilometres below the sea floor.
The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is an international marine research drilling program which began in 2003 and is dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of the Earth by monitoring and sampling subseafloor environments.
The University of Newcastle is part of a consortium of 12 Australian universities which has joined the IODP for five years through an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant of $8.75 million.
The IODP operates three ships, each of which undertakes approximately four expeditions per year.
"Ocean drilling provides us with a long-term record of the Earth," said Associate Professor Ron Boyd from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Information Technology. "Every kilometre we drill down can give us more than one million years of data - so by drilling down 12 kilometres we can look back more than 100 million years.
"The ships use a metal tube called a 'riser' which extends up from the seafloor and enables samples and cores to be returned to the ship for study.
"The samples we take from below the ocean floor can give us a wealth of information about how earthquakes and tsunamis occur, the past climates of the earth, marine sediments, marine ecosystem changes, volcanic activity, and ice-sheet history."
The current expedition is attempting for the first time to drill and sample the earthquake- causing portion of Earth's crust in the Nankai Trough, located beneath the ocean off the southwest coast of Japan. It is one of the most active earthquake zones on the planet. A future expedition to Wilkes Land in Antarctica is designed to provide a long term record of glaciation, sea level, climate and oceanography.
Associate Professor Boyd said membership of the IODP would open up international research opportunities for the University.
"This is the 'ocean equivalent' of the NASA space program and is the most exciting marine scientific research program in the world," he said.
“Our membership of the IODP gives us the opportunity to work with researchers from the USA, Japan, the European Union, China, South Korea and Australia. It also gives our students the opportunity to interact with leaders in their fields - people they otherwise would have no exposure to."
Several members and students of the School of Environmental and Life Sciences hope to participate in their first IODP expedition in 2008.