Submarine Resources Research Project
Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC)
Frontier Research Center for Energy and Resources (FRCER)
School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo
Research Consortium for Methane Hydrate Resources in Japan (MH21)
JAMSTEC launched the Submarine Resources Research Project in April 2011 for intensive research and technical development on submarine resources. In this project, research is being conducted to deepen the basic understanding of the substances and ecosystems that inhabit the mysterious world of the sea floor—using unmanned robots that can explore the seabed, and the Scientific Deep Sea Drilling Vessel CHIKYU.
The CHIKYU will also be used for the first offshore production test of the submarine resource methane hydrate, to be conducted in fiscal 2012 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Methane hydrate is a promising next-generation energy source, and efforts for its future practical utilization are being made by the MH21 Research Consortium, a joint industry-academia research team in which the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is playing a leading role. Eiichi Kikawa, Project Leader of the JAMSTEC Submarine Resources Research Project, welcomed Associate Professor Yoshihiro Masuda of the University of Tokyo, who serves as a Project Leader for the MH21 Research Consortium, to a discussion of submarine resources and the expectations for research using CHIKYU in this area.
(Published in March 2012)
Scientific Drilling and Seabed Resources
- When was our first meeting? Was it before working together on CHIKYU?
- We first met back in 2002, at the time of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) conference, when I visited you in Washington DC, where you were staying. My impression was that our ways of thinking at the time were quite different even though we both shared an interest in drilling, because my focus of research was oil drilling, whereas yours was scientific drilling.
- In scientific drilling, the emphasis is on drilling in many different areas and collecting cores, or samples. This differs from oil drilling, as you know, where your interest is on finding resources—and even when drilling you do not always take cores. At that conference in 2002, researchers involved in both scientific drilling and oil drilling exchanged information and discovered areas where our respective technologies would be useful to each other. Many of the technologies developed for oil drilling have been adopted in scientific drilling. And the information gained from that conference is still fostering technical development.
- What kinds of activities are being carried out by the Submarine Resources Research Project, where you serve as project leader?
- In the IODP expeditions using the CHIKYU, we discovered a large, lake-like reservoir of hot water thought to produce hydrothermal ore deposits, located under the sea floor of Okinawa Prefecture in an area of hydrothermal eruptions. We also found a coal bed under the sea floor off Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture where a large amount of methane gas-producing microorganisms exist. We are conducting research to unlock the mysteries of this sub-seabed world that will lead to the use of these resources. For example, we are studying the formation of seabed hydrothermal ore deposits and cobalt-rich crust, which are promising as huge mineral resource deposits. And we are also exploring the kinds of environments in which methane hydrate is produced within the seabed.（See Sidebar）