"Integrated Ocean Drilling Program" in Irish Waters

Thinking about coral reefs one always tend to visualize them in warm, bright and shallow areas, such as in Australian waters or the Bahamas, however they have also been found in gloomy, cold and deep waters, off the coasts of 41 countries including Ireland. They occur at depths of hundreds of metres to just a few tens of metres, in several settings across almost all the world's oceans, sometimes emerging from giant carbonate mounds.

IODP research vessel, the Joides Resolution
IODP research vessel, the Joides Resolution

The idea of drilling into these giant mounds to unveil the secrets trapped in these cemeteries of coral and sediments originated a few years back. But it was only in May of 2005 that the idea finally materialized when an international research expedition took place entirely in Irish waters. The expedition concentrated on drilling the Challenger mound (170m high) in the Porcupine Seabight. From an environmental perspective this mound was chosen very carefully indeed as it is mostly covered by dead coral.


The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is an international marine research programme that explores the Earth's history and structure as recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks, and monitors subseafloor environments. It is managed by an American management agency, IODP-MI, and funded by USA, Japan, ECORD (European interests) and China. The platform to carry out this ambitious drilling programme was the American rig vessel, the Joides Resolution (124m). Leaving Dublin Port on April 28th she successfully drilled 11 holes, of average 200m length, in three target sites, recovering 1400m of sediment core.
Preparing the drill bit
Preparing the drill bit...

Sample of cross sections acquired
Scientists from the expedition are now working up answers to some very important questions. They have already demonstrated that the mound developed around 1.8 million years ago and it consists of a 155m thick sequence of coral fragments and sediments from top to base. They are now studying the coral fragments for information about the past climate in the region in order to perhaps predict future trends. Such research and results originating from an innovative and prestigious expedition in Irish waters will heighten awareness of the development of cold water coral banks in the Atlantic, and will significantly enhance Irish marine science's reputation across the globe.

For further information on the origins of IODP please click here to view details of its precursor programme, the ODP - Ocean Drilling Program.


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