Memorial University is the new home of the Canadian Consortium for Ocean Drilling (CCOD).
Formerly housed at the University of British Columbia, the organization is composed of the Canadian universities and government agencies that facilitate Canada’s participation in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).
IODP is an international marine research collaboration that explores Earth’s history and dynamics. It uses ocean-going research platforms to recover data recorded in sea floor sediments and rocks and to monitor subsea floor environments.
Dr. John Jamieson, assistant professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science, at Memorial and the Canada Research Chair in Marine Geology, is the new drilling consortium chair and Canada’s representative to the IODP.
He’s been a member of the Canadian consortium for several years.
Coring into a volcano
“The IODP provides the 23 member countries access to two permanent drilling vessels, the M/V Joides Resolution, managed by the United States, and the M/V Chikyu, managed by Japan,” Dr. Jamieson said.
“Canada is part of the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), which sees the European countries pooling their money to rent mission-specific platforms, such as an icebreaker or another ship chosen to fulfil a particular scientific objective.”
This spring, Dr. Jamieson will spend eight weeks aboard the Joides Resolution as the ship attempts to drill into an underwater volcano north of New Zealand.
“It’s something no one’s ever done before,” he said. “We’re going to try to core into, not just the volcano itself, but the hydrothermal system with black smokers that sits on top of the volcano. We’re hoping to get a 3D view of the whole thing down to almost a kilometre into the volcano.”
Black smokers are hot water springs that form on underwater volcanoes. The hot water doesn’t boil, but the “smoke” that can be seen is actually tiny minerals containing copper, zinc, gold and silver.
On past missions, Dr. Jamieson has watched as remotely operated vehicles collected samples from the ocean floor and autonomous underwater vehicles mapped the area.
“This program is basically the marine geoscience version of the International Space Station.”
This is the first time he’s been part of an expedition trying to look at and collect rocks from the subsurface.
“So much of our understanding is based simply on what’s on the surface,” said Dr. Jamieson. “We don’t have the third dimension and that dimension is really important. This will be one of only a handful of times anyone has tried to drill deep into a hydrothermal system and the first time into the centre of a submarine volcano.
“I think if we accomplish even half of what we are setting out to do it can have significant, long-term impacts on my research,” he continued. “But this is also a very difficult thing to do, so I am trying to temper my expectations.”
Ship missions are almost a rite of passage for people in Dr. Jamieson’s field. They’re also excellent opportunities to build relationships for future research projects.
“There’s a lot of collaboration with people from all over the world,” he said. “It’s eight weeks of networking. Almost all of the people I work with now I met on a research cruise. This program is basically the marine geoscience version of the International Space Station.”
As chair of the drilling consortium, one of his major roles will be to get the Canadian government to once again begin paying membership fees to the European drilling consortium to participate in the program.
“The ability for a country to send scientists on cruises depends on the amount of money they contribute,” said Dr. Jamieson. “The biggest contributors to ECORD — Germany, France and the U.K. — pay several million dollars a year. The Canadian federal government was contributing over half a million dollars per year to this program until funding was cut in 2012.”
Since then, Canada’s contribution has been less than one tenth of that original budget, pulled together by the researchers who are members of the Canadian consortium’s executive and their institutions. Last year Memorial contributed $10,000 of that total.
“It’s really just a Band-Aid until we get the government involved again,” he said.
“Last year I walked down the hall and polled almost every member of my department and asked if they had used IODP data, and almost everyone either is now, or has in the past. Even though only a certain number of people can go out and collect the data, it is all stored and as long as you are a member you can get access to it.”
“Past IODP drilling expeditions off the coast of N.L. have led to a significant leap forward in our understanding of . . . the offshore petroleum resource potential of the province.”
Dr. Luke Beranek is an assistant professor of earth sciences at Memorial. He says the IODP has had many benefits for Canada over the years — and, in particular, Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The results from past IODP drilling expeditions off the coast of Newfoundland have led to a significant leap forward in our understanding of our offshore geology, and thus the offshore petroleum resource potential of the province,” he said.
“Without that information we might never have known that deep water areas, such as the Orphan and Flemish Pass basins, would be prospective for hydrocarbons.”