A more coordinated approach to ocean drilling is urgently needed if Europe is to remain a major player in this important scientific and commercial field into the next century, argues a new position paper from the European Science Foundation's Boards for European Marine and Polar Science (EMaPS).
Ocean coring and drilling are key technologies not only for Europe's geoscientists as they try to understand more fully the evolution of the planet, but also for the oil and gas industries in the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, explains the EMaPS position paper European initiatives in science and technology for deep-sea coring and drilling. At the present time, Europe is at the forefront of a number of fields in exploration science, such as the study of continental margins - an area of growing interest both in terms of resource exploitation (both living and mineral) as well as natural hazards (slope instability, massive releases of gas, earthquakes) - and in the high resolution study of climate and sea-level changes. Both are research fields in which progress is dependent on scientists capacity to drill.
However, the present "riser" technologies used by oil companies are reaching their technical limits, and the development of new drilling techniques is an urgent requirement for Europe's scientists if they are not to fall behind their American and Japanese counterparts. The report's editors, Laurent d'Ozouville and Colin Jacobs, argue that action is required now. They write "Europe has a unique opportunity to benefit from, and to build upon, its long scientific and financial commitments in deep sea coring and drilling, so as to successfully lead the way in tackling a major challenge for the well-being of our society: the global understanding of the Ocean."
The paper suggests that by better coordinating the efforts of science and industry, Europe could make major advances in two key areas. It could make a significant contribution to future international drilling programmes by taking the lead in the development of the next generation of deep penetration tools based on the "slimline riser" system or equivalent. And secondly, it could move forward with the development of a series of down-hole exploration tools, such as new logging sensors, fluid samplers and in situ laboratories and broad-band seismometers.
In a foreword to the report, ESF Secretary General, Professor Peter Fricker says: "Ocean drilling is an area where there is a clear convergence of interests in the development and use of research resources and techniques amongst both Europe's scientists and industrialists. These shared interests suggest that a coordinated European approach is an urgent requirement."
A fresh approach, the report argues, is also needed to give Europe's geoscience community better access to drilling platforms other than the international Ocean Drilling Program's JOIDES Resolution. To achieve this, the report calls for the setting up of a European Scientific Committee on Ocean Coring and Drilling to facilitate the implementation of European scientific programmes and to oversee technical developments in deep-sea drilling. A key priority for the Committee would be to establish a "permanent, active and concrete" dialogue between the scientific community and the oil and gas industry in Europe for the identification and the drilling of common targets, and for the development of new technologies.
The position paper is now being widely distributed in both the scientific and industrial communities and, over the coming months, EMaPS is planning to follow it up with a series of initiatives to promote its central recommendations.
Notes for editors:
1. The European Science Foundation is an association of 62 major national funding agencies devoted to scientific research in 21 countries. The ESF assists its member organisations in two main ways: by bringing scientists together in its scientific programmes, networks and European research conferences, to work on topics of common concern, and through the joint study of issues of strategic importance in European science policy.
2. The EMaPS (European Marine and Polar Science) Boards were set up in October 1995 at the initiative of the European Science Foundation and the European Commission. Their aim is to strengthen cooperation and coordination between marine and polar institutes in Europe and to develop strategies that would help these institutes make more effective use of their research capacity and to tackle major long-term issues and programmes which are beyond the financial resources of a single nation to support. EMaPS operates under the auspices of the European Science Foundation and receives financial support from its member organisations and the European Commission. The Marine Board represents 26 marine research organisations from 18 countries in Europe and the Polar Board 23 organisations from 15 countries.
3. Copies of European initiatives in science and technology for deep-sea coring and drilling are available from the EMaPS Secretariat, European Science Foundation, 1 quai Lezay-Marnésia, 67080 Strasbourg Cedex, France. Tel: +33 (0)3 76 71 41. Fax: +33 (0)3 88 25 19 54. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.