IODP Proceedings    Volume contents     Search
iodp logo



The Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), which operated from 1968 to 2003, were the first scientific efforts to sample the deep subsurface of much of the global ocean. DSDP operated the drillship GLOMAR Challenger, the first ship to drill in ultra-deep water (>3000 m). ODP began operating a larger and more capable drillship, the JOIDES Resolution, in 1985. These two programs made fundamental discoveries and advanced our understanding of the evolution and structure of Earth. DSDP and ODP occupied roughly 1000 sites and drilled and recovered thousands of kilometers of ocean sediment and crust from every major ocean basin—except the Arctic.

The Arctic was excluded from drilling during both DSDP and ODP owing to technical and logistic challenges of operating in ice-covered waters. Furthermore, the lack of geophysical site surveys in the Arctic Ocean and even basic maps of bathymetry and ocean crustal composition severely limited proponents in terms of selecting and proposing drill sites.

Even with icebreaker support, most existing drillships (National Research Council, 1991) were insufficiently ice strengthened to safely work within the main polar ice pack. In addition, most of the important scientific Arctic ocean drilling targets are in water depths >1 km and are influenced by moving pack ice where holding station for days against the drift of the ice would be required. Regional ice movements follow two major circulation patterns: a clockwise flow, the Beaufort Gyre, in the Amerasian Basin and a cross-basin flow, the Transpolar Drift, in the Eurasian Basin (Fig. F1). Methods to stay on location against moving ice had been developed for shallow areas on the Arctic continental shelves for hydrocarbon exploration but were nonexistent for deepwater areas of the basin (National Research Council, 1991; Clark et al., 1997).

In an effort to advance scientific exploration of the Arctic and the technology required to do so, single- and multiple-ship icebreaker expeditions to the central Arctic Ocean conducted stationkeeping exercises. One of the first exercises, during the Arctic ’91 Expedition (Fütterer, 1992), was conducted by the icebreaker Oden (Nansen Arctic Drilling, 1997) in single-ship mode. During heavy ice-breaking operations, the Oden was able to stay within 50 m of a fixed position for several hours, suggesting that stationkeeping could be achieved. Later, during a single-ship expedition in 1996, the Oden conducted carefully planned stationkeeping tests (Kristoffersen, 1997). Under moderate ice conditions (8–9/10 ice cover), the Oden was able to stay on location for more than a day.

The moderate success of these tests prompted an initially small group of scientists (J. Backman, L. Mayer, K. Moran, Y. Kristoffersen, and M. Jakobsson) to develop the first scientific ocean drilling proposal for a deepwater site in the central Arctic Ocean on the Lomonosov Ridge (ODP/Integrated Ocean Drilling Program [IODP] Proposal 533), based on site survey data acquired in 1991 (Jokat et al., 1992; see also Thiede et al., 1992) This submission to ODP was the first to propose the concept of multiple ships, including an ice-strengthened drillship. This idea was spawned from experience that team members had acquired in scientific ocean drilling and in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, where ice-strengthened drillships had successfully cored in shallow-water settings. Although details of this concept required considerable development, the robustness of the approach was repeatedly reinforced by groups of experts, primarily ice management and icebreaker specialists. The proponent team, with support from Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), Inc., continued to develop the details of the concept with the help of these experts because the scientific drilling community, including management groups, showed significant skepticism about the possibility for success.

A pivotal meeting occurred when a group of icebreaker captains met with the proponents in Helsinki in 2001. At that meeting, Admiral Anatoly Gorshkovsky, Head of the Russian Ministry of Transport’s Northern Sea Route Administration, suggested an option to ensure success with three nuclear icebreakers as support icebreakers and a drilling ship, “to break a 100 m wide lead upstream of the drill ship.” This meeting marked the beginning of detailed planning for Expedition 302 and confirmed one key element of the concept—that whatever number of vessels were finally selected, at least one had to be a nuclear icebreaker.

Although the drilling proposal was submitted to ODP and was ranked first among all other proposals, the program did not schedule the project, primarily because of the effort required a change to existing ODP contracts. Instead, ODP, through its advisory structure, Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES), initiated an Arctic Detailed Planning Group (ADPG) whose mandate was to develop a detailed plan to execute a Lomonosov Ridge drilling project.

ODP ended in September 2003 and was succeeded by the IODP. IODP includes riserless drillship operations provided by the United States that are identical to those in ODP, new riser drilling provided by Japan, and an innovative option to use mission-specific platforms (MSPs) to conduct operations that could not be achieved with either the U.S. or the Japanese vessels. With the incorporation of MSPs into the scientific ocean drilling capabilities, the proponents directed their efforts to making Expedition 302 the first MSP expedition for IODP. IODP selected the proposal, scheduled it for August–September 2004 as the first MSP operation, and formally designated it as IODP Expedition 302.