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28 August, 2004

Bits and Pieces from Aboard the Oden

We are still awaiting core samples, though the good news is that the drilling has resumed and we have reached almost 270 meters below the sea bed. The drilling crew has experienced some mechanical difficulties which have delayed the drilling. It is a good feeling when the ship is moving again and breaking ice because we know we are back on track and working.

While onboard the Oden as part of this expedition, I have been trying to understand the many acronyms that have been flying around this expedition. The expedition itself is called ACEX (Arctic Coring Expedition). It is the second coring expedition of the newly formed Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). The IODP, an international scientific ocean drilling program, succeeded the ODP (the Ocean Drilling Program) that had operated from 1985 - September 2003. Under ODP, the United States supported by the NSF (National Science Foundation) and 20 other international partners combined resources to provide one drilling vessel, the JOIDES Resolution. The US provided approximately 65% of the total program resources. In the new IODP, the US and Japan will serve as equal partners in providing operating expenses to the IODP, and a consortium of at least 13 European countries will also contribute significantly. The capitalization costs for each platform are paid for by the sponsoring entity. Japan is building a new drill ship called the Chikyu (which means "Earth") that should be ready in 2007. Capitalization costs are somewhat greater than $0.5 billion US.

I have spent considerable time on this expedition talking with the crew from the BGS (British Geological Survey). The BGS co-ordinates ESO (the ECORD Science Operator), a consortium that also includes the University of Bremen and the European Petrophysics Consortium. In turn ECORD (European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling) is comprised of the 13 European countries mentioned above.

ESO is responsible for managing and operating the ACEX expedition. To help them with this enormous task they contracted the SPRS (Swedish Polar Research Secretariat), and together they were responsible for securing all 3 vessels - the 2 icebreakers, the Oden and the Sovetskiy Soyuz, as well as outfitting the icebreaker Vidar Viking as a drill ship. SPRS also organized the fleet- and ice-management teams.

To turn the Vidar into a drill ship, the ESO first needed to add a "moon pool", a hole in the deck of the ship for the drill string to pass through. The BGS also contracted a British company, Seacore, to build a drilling derrick and to conduct drilling operations at sea. The derrick atop the Vidar is not as tall as the one on the JOIDES Resolution, so rather than pulling up core lengths of 9.5 meters, ACEX is coring in 4.5 meter lengths. Getting the Vidar ready for drilling was a feat in time-management. The entire outfitting of the Vidar by ESO began on July 22 in Aberdeen, Scotland with the cruise set to begin on August 7th. Sea trials of the drilling equipment took place in the North Sea starting on July 28th and ended in Landskrona, Sweden on the 1st of August. Then the Vidar needed to make its way north to Tromso, Norway, where it met up with the Oden.

As it turned out, the Oden sailed at about midnight on August 7th, with the Vidar following after some final preparations. We met again at the ice edge on August 10th and have been together since then in the Arctic ice.

The Oden as seen from the Vidar Viking, photo by Erik Zetterberg.

Some of the BGS crew, Colin Brett, Dave McInroy, Dan Evans and Colin Graham.

The drill ship, Vidar Viking.

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