Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Thrill to Drill (over the next 10 years) by Prof Melanie Leng

In late November the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) Science Conference was held in the historic Telegrafenberg in Potsdam, Germany. The aim of the conference was to debate and map ICDP’s way forward over the next 5 – 10 years and develop a science plan for continental deep drilling. Here Melanie Leng gives us a brief overview:

The 160 participants of the ICDP Science Conference



















The ICDP’s aim is to provide funding and infrastructure that facilitate outstanding science by obtaining cores of rock, ice or sediments that are archives of our planet over the last 4.5 billion years.  Key questions are focussed on climate change, natural hazards, Earth’s resources and the origins of life on Earth. As we head toward a warming world where hazards are becoming increasingly disruptive and resources more scarce, there has never been a greater need to drill into our Earth to answer key scientific questions. However as questions become more pertinent to a sustained and prosperous life on Earth there is increasingly a need for targeted research. Over the past few years ICDP funding has been used to underpin research themes from other international research programmes, this is a great joined up approach especially where those questions are aligned with our main societal challenges. However discussion was needed concerning ICDP’s future and this was the rationale behind the conference.

The geological monoliths in the grounds of GFZ,
Potsdam where the conference was held. Note the
large column of marble with blue (azurite?) veining.
The conference took the form of a series of keynote talks, project specific lightning talks and sessions dedicated to education, outreach, and partnerships with industry as well as developing the 10 year plan through discussion and debate. For example, one breakout group that I was part of was tasked with formulating a plan regarding key questions in global climate cycles; we identified 5 key targets that could be used to integrate our science with policy maker concerns. These were: (1) Understanding climate cycles on different time scales; (2) The investigation of the sensitivity of the land surface to different types of climate perturbations; (3) Understanding feedbacks and identifying conditions related to climate tipping points causing new climate ‘states’; (4) Characterising the critical zone (between land and atmosphere) and understanding how changes in one affect others; and (5) Understanding ice sheet response to climate variations, links to sea level, global temperatures and hydrology etc. Most of these targets are not new to us and all are connected with a better understanding of the Earth’s climate system, at all time scales. We thought that there is an obvious need to target intervals of geological time, for example periods of warmer worlds, periods of higher CO2 than present (>400ppm) and periods of rapid change (potentially tipping points)…

Early career scientists were represented at the meeting and were asked how ICDP could facilitate their involvement. In particular, they were concerned about the age structure of ICDP (with a high number of very experienced scientists) and the low diversity (women, ethnic mixtures). They felt they could be helped to integrate more within ICDP via a post doctoral fellowship programme, travel support to ICDP workshops, conferences, networking opportunities, as well as better access to successful proposals. All suggestions we should be mindful of – so thanks to them for giving this some thought.


The next stage is for the ICDP community to pull together a “white paper” on the findings of this conference and publication of the keynote reviews and active projects in a special issue of the International Journal of Earth Sciences. Both coming soon! Keep a look out for more information on the UK’s ICDP blog page, website here and via their Twitter  @ICDPdrilling.

Melanie Leng
Twitter @MelJLeng

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