The science plan is divided into four research themes: climate and ocean change, biosphere frontiers, Earth connections (deep Earth processes), and Earth in motion (direct time series observations on human scales). Fourteen specific challenges, posed as questions, are included in these themes. In addition, chapters on education and outreach and on implementation are included. Although the document has no explicit vision statement, the science plan’s focus is clearly on new discoveries and better understanding of Earth science topics to meet emerging societal challenges and enhance decision making. This overarching focus is considerably different from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Initial Science Plan (IODP, 2001), which was based on further exploration of the ocean and new scientific understanding of Earth systems, with the assumption that recognition of how to apply that knowledge to relevant societal issues would be automatic. The committee supports linking scientific ocean drilling to issues of societal relevance and commends the writers of the science plan for taking this approach. The climate and ocean change (e.g., climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification) and Earth in motion (e.g., earthquakes and other geohazards) themes identify challenges with the most direct societal relevance, but relevant topics also exist in the biosphere and Earth connections themes.
Overall, the science plan presents a strong case for the continuation of scientific ocean drilling, with its possible benefits for science and society. The committee was particularly positive about the potential for transformative science resulting from studies of the subseafloor biosphere and about the importance of continuing paleoclimate studies that will provide analogs and likely constraints on global and regional changes predicted with future climate. It also agreed that the emphasis on sampling deeper into the crystalline basement will lead to better understanding of deep earth processes, especially if high percentages of intact core are recovered and if active tectonic processes are monitored in situ.
Each of the four themes within the science plan identifies compelling challenges with potential for transformative science that can only be addressed by scientific ocean drilling. Some challenges within these themes appear to have greater potential for transformative science than others.
The committee’s assessments of each theme and specific challenge identified in the science plan are discussed in greater detail in the following sections. The themes and challenges are pertinent and well-justified, although the committee was concerned that the science plan reads like a wish list with little guidance as to which of the 14 challenges were considered most important. The committee is aware that the writers of the science plan may not have been asked to prioritize, but given the financial constraints that the next phase of scientific ocean drilling is likely to face, it may now be appropriate for the scientific ocean drilling community to provide additional guidance on prioritization of potential drilling objectives. Such a prioritization could include guidance on which drilling objectives might be dependent on platform capabilities and availability, innovations in technology, challenges in obtaining supporting data (such as in high latitudes), or global political or safety concerns.
RECOMMENDATION: The scientific ocean drilling community should establish a mechanism to prioritize the challenges outlined in the science plan in a manner that complements the existing peer-review process.
The scientific ocean drilling programs have a history of making excellent use of legacy samples and data that have helped to quickly advance new areas of research (see in particular the discussion of accomplishments in the section on Abrupt Climate Change in Chapter 4). On the other hand, the science plan is justifiably focused on the importance of future drilling challenges and thus spends little time discussing the use of legacy information and samples.
Using legacy data and samples to their maximum capabilities will continue to increase the scientific value of the scientific ocean drilling programs. Expanded use of legacy materials could help, for example, with prioritization of drilling objectives in the next phase of scientific ocean drilling.
A more thorough future examination of the areas of natural integration among scientific ocean drilling objectives would also be valuable. Although several natural points of synergy between the challenges and themes are well described in the science plan, a more detailed examination of the areas where natural integration could occur between and among the science challenges would have further strengthened the science plan (see following sections for further discussion). An increase in efficiency and integration of multiple science objectives is one means by which resources can be most effectively used. For example, integrating multiple drilling objectives in the early planning stages of single expeditions would maximize scientific output in relation to costs. This approach is successfully used by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP)2 and polar expeditions. Integrating multiple objectives into a single expedition requires compromises, but certain practices, such as bringing expedition leaders together beforehand to ensure agreement on expedition goals and providing adequate planning to create a viable work plan, will make success more likely. Other potential approaches to increasing efficiency include evolving efforts to optimize ship tracks,