Deep drilling and wedding proposals by Lauren Noakes

If you want to understand the past climates, future hazards and potential resources of our planet then you need a group of excellent scientists with a plan and a really big drill. And a lot of money. The International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) has an annual budget of $5million with which it funds cutting edge research and provides operational support and drilling facilities. 

Collaborations and investments like this mean that scientists can start to understand and unravel the effects of natural and human process happening today. Funding is highly sought after and every January proposals from all over the world are submitted to ICDP to help start drilling projects from the equator to Antarctica.

BGS pays for the UK's membership to ICDP and as such we have scientists on each of the the committees that chose which projects get funded. It's a responsibility they take very seriously because the discoveries this research could lead to has wide reaching implications for the planet and each of us living on it.

The dynamic planet: areas ICDP are helping drill into and understand
The proposal
As I understand it, and I’ve just interviewed Mel Leng who sits on one of the committees, the research proposal might as well be called a wedding proposal. There are just so many parallels! After all it’s just a person with an idea they believe in, who’s got to get permission from several other people for something ultimately life changing and very very expensive! So let’s use that analogy as I try and explain the funding process.

Step One.
You’ve had the idea, you want to marry them, you’ve taken advice and you’ve chosen the best ring. With ring in hand you now need permission from their father-in-law. In our case it’s the Science Advisory Group (SAG). They meet once a year, in April, to evaluate all proposals for their scientific merit. Dr Kathryn Goodenough (BGS) sits on the SAG for her expertise in igneous petrology, geochemistry, and basement terrains.

Step Two.
Even if dad says yes, we all know who’s most influential, the mother-in-law! So reviews from SAG are then passed to the Executive Committee (EC) who review and evaluate the operational plan and funds requested. Prof Melanie Leng, BGS and University of Nottingham, sits on the EC. The workshop and pre-proposal decisions are also made by the EC but there's still one more hurdle before the full drilling proposals are accepted…

Step Three.
 … and that’s your own one true love, the Assembly of Governors (AoG), if they don’t like your proposal it's all over. The AoG consists of representatives from the major funders from all over the world and it's Prof John Ludden who takes the seat for the UK. The AoG reviews all decisions at a meeting held immediately after the EC and only with their agreement do you get your proposal accepted, a ring on their finger and a deep borehole drilled.

read Jack's blog here about drilling through 3
million years of Earths history in Lake Ohrid,
on the Macedonia/Albania border
A successful proposal could mean a future of exciting discoveries, just as some of our PhD students and scientists have found out from their involvement in ICDP.

This year the Science Advisory Group (SAG) was held in China in April, and the Executive Committee (EC) and Assembly of Governors (AoG) were held in Prague in early June. Rumour has it that many workshops and several full drilling proposals were approved, including several with UK collaborators! The funding announcements and calls for workshop participation will be over the next few weeks so keep an eye on the ICDP website for details of the proposed projects.

The proposals comprised
• 5 multi-million pound full drilling proposals,
• 2 pre-proposals (that will likely be submitted as workshop proposals next year) and
• 12 workshop proposals (to gather researchers together to write the full drilling proposals to achieve the best and most important science).

If you have any questions about the ICDP funding, or if you are interested in deep drilling and research, please feel free to contact our UK (BGS) reps: Dr Kathryn Goodenough (SAG), Prof Melanie Leng (EC), and Prof John Ludden (AoG).

By your friendly neighbourhood BGS press officer,
Lauren Noakes