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Record StartApril 24, 2012

Three weeks into the expedition and we were still waiting for the drilling to begin. There had been several false starts during the last two weeks and everyone was getting anxious about the delays. April 22 was a Sunday so there were fewer work activities as the science party relaxed on the weekend. It was also my birthday. I was completely surprised when the scheduled afternoon coffee break turned out to be a birthday party for me.

A lot of effort had gone into decorating the lounge for the party. I’m sure people had more fun creating all the elaborate designs, than the actual party itself. That’s fine with me since I favor any reason to have some fun. Among the decorations, there was a megathrust/sea cucumber/methane molecule/catfish sculpture, a big rainbow poster signed by everyone, leis made of paper flowers, and lots of balloons with written messages. I especially liked the balloon which promised a birthday present of ‘Data’.

Christine Regalla with the ‘Data’ balloon from the birthday party.

The ship’s cook provided a cake and Louise Anderson told me to make a secret wish and blow out the candles (3 lighters held by Sanny Saito, Virginia Toy and Nobu Eguchi). Although, everybody knew that my wish was for the success of the expedition and especially to start collecting some data.

Data !
Needless to say, I am writing this blog because the birthday wish came true. If it hadn’t come true, I would be talking about albatrosses and poetry. A little before midnight we got the word that the drill bit was close to the ocean floor and we were ready to ‘spud in’ (another message on a party balloon).

One responsibility of the co-chiefs is to verify that the ship is in the correct location to start the borehole. Fred Chester and I went to the control room on the rig floor to give the approval for drilling, not that we really knew where in the ocean we were, other than having some GPS coordinates from the bridge.

Driller’s house where operations are controlled on the rig floor.

The start of drilling was rather anticlimactic and quite slow over the first few tens of meters. Although, it was a relief when we received confirmation that logging data were being received from tools on the drill string. It is impressive that signals from the instruments near the drill bit can be sent through 7 kilometers of mud and water by acoustic pulses. This telemetry system had never been used before over such a long distance.

We were collecting data! A long three weeks of mostly waiting onboard the ship and an even longer year’s work by so many people in preparation for the JFAST project, and now the first borehole was really started and we were on out way to the fault !

Monica Wolfson in front of monitor which displays logging data. 7079 m is the record breaking depth, as recorded at the rig floor, which 28.5 m above the sea level.

New World Record
Not only did we start collecting data for Expedition 343, we also set a new record in the process. Around 8:30 the next morning, Monica Wolfson, a morning shift watchdog, came by to say that the drilling was approaching the eagerly anticipated depth of 7049.5 meters below the sea surface. This depth represented the previous greatest total depth below sea level for any scientific ocean drilling project, and we were about to break that record. Colored data points appeared on the logging monitor, indicating that the drill bit was passing 7049.5 meters. Jim Sample popped open a precious can of Coke and carefully portioned it out into 15 small paper cups for a toast to the historic occasion.

Drilling continued through the night to a depth of 7308 meters below the sea surface (424 meters below the seafloor with a water depth of 6883.54 meters). Previously, the deepest penetration below the sea surface, as mentioned above, was 7049.5 meters during Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP) Leg 60 to the Marianas Trench in 1978. The DSDP borehole was drilled 15.5 meters below the seafloor in a water depth of 7034 meters.

From a birthday party to a wished for data collection, and from a long anticipated drilling start to a new world record, it was a couple of exciting days on the D/V Chikyu.

Breaking the depth record for scientific drilling.

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