State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Lamont-Doherty to Manage U.S. Ocean Drilling Program

Researchers examine cores of sediment drilled from the deep seabed.
Researchers examine cores of sediment drilled from the deep seabed.

Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has signed a $35 million, five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. National Science Foundation to manage scientific support services for U.S. scientists studying the world’s ocean floors. Lamont will use the award to manage U.S. scientific support services for the International Ocean Discovery Program, a 26-nation collaboration that explores earth’s geologic history and dynamics via the seafloors. The award, the result of a national competition conducted by National Science Foundation, was announced today at a press conference by U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland counties), and top Lamont staff.

“Observatory scientists, engineers and students have been participating in IODP programs and its predecessor programs for more than four decades,” said Lamont Director Sean Solomon. “Our proposal built on that work in offering a unique and efficient management plan for this important and complex program.”

International Ocean Discovery Program researchers drill out samples of subseafloor sediments and rocks, and monitor the seabed. Two major vessels are involved, one sponsored by the United States and the other by Japan; a consortium of European countries also provides ships for specific missions. The program’s main study areas are climate, extreme sub-seafloor life, natural hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and the impact of deep processes on the earth’s surface environment. Scientists from universities and other institutions across the United States participate in expeditions and research. Extending back five decades in various forms, the program is one of the earth sciences’ longest running international collaborations.

Lowey said the agreement “will allow Lamont-Doherty’s scientists to continue advancing our understanding of the natural world around us, and their work will provide the foundation to one day solve some of the globe’s most pressing problems.”

In recent years, ocean drilling has revealed profound changes in earth’s past environment and climate, and provided context to understand changes now unfolding. It has been fundamental to the theory of plate tectonics–the overarching understanding of how earth’s surface forms and moves, controlling everything from earthquakes and volcanoes to the formation of ore deposits. Drilling has also revealed the existence of huge, still largely unknown ecosystems extending nearly a mile below the seabed.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (left) listens as Carl Brenner, director of the new office,  explains it scope.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (left) listens as Carl Brenner, director of the new office, explains it scope.

With input from a national advisory panel, Lamont’s new U.S. Science Support office will provide monetary support for U.S. scientists participating in International Ocean Discovery Program research. The office will also run an extensive education and outreach program aimed at teachers and students promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, and awareness of the ocean program’s field activities. The office will be headed by Carl Brenner, a Lamont scientist of long standing who has had extensive experience with the ocean program and its predecessor programs. It will have a staff of five.

“The [International Ocean Discovery Program] will provide invaluable scientific information for understanding earth dynamics, and charting a safe trajectory for humanity in an era of dangerous human-induced climate change,” said Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs. “Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has a long history of scientific collaboration with the U.S. government to produce cutting-edge knowledge of profound scientific and policy importance. We are honored and excited to be working with the National Science Foundation and the nation’s leading earth-system scientists on this important new project.”

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