Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Open Letter to the NSF regarding the renewal of the IODP

Well, I just e-mailed it to them. Is that what an open letter is?
Where you just e-mail it to them and then post it somewhere else for
everyone to read? Anyway, for those of you who don't know, the
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program is in danger of being cancelled by
the NSF, which would be awful for climate science, and geosciences in
general. The IODP is earth science's version of CERN or the Hubble
Telescope. Many of our biggest discoveries in the last 40 years are
directly related to the IODP and its predecessors.

September 15, 2013

Cora Marrett, Acting Director, NSF (cmarrett@nsf.com)
David Conover, Director, Division of Ocean Sciences (dconover@nsf.gov)
Roger Wakimoto, Assistant Director, Directorate for Geosciences

Dear Drs. Marrett, Conover, and Wakimoto,

I am writing to urge you to renew the Integrated Ocean Discovery
Program. The IODP and its predecessor programs have generated some of
the most important data in geosciences over the last 40 years. The
Deep Sea Drilling Project was first created to confirm the theory of
plate tectonics, and scientific ocean drilling has been quietly
revolutionizing the earth sciences ever since. Ocean Drilling has
provided the vast majority of the paleoclimatic record over long time
scales at high, including rapid changes that provide insights to our
current changing climate. The geologic time scale has been greatly
refined by ocean drilling data, including magnetic reversals in the
crust, orbital cyclicity recorded in sediments, and micropaleontology.
Unique and otherwise unobtainable datasets have also been generated
for, among many other things, the study of earthquakes and tsunamis at
crustal boundaries, the structure and petrology of the sea floor,
subsea fluid flow, previously unknown deep-biosphere communities, and
the structures generated by and processes of continental rifting.
The best records of change in the biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere,
and cryosphere over the last 200 million years are preserved in ocean
sediments and can only be accessed by scientific ocean drilling, and
there are still many research questions that are still unanswered.
Many of these are questions we haven't even thought to ask yet, and
will require new and specially designed studies to answer. Existing
datasets and samples are a limited resource and not adequate for all
research topics. Ending the IODP would be a mistake that would set our
science back indefinitely. Paleoclimatology would be hit particularly
hard; it is critical to understand the past in order to prepare for
the future. Without ocean drilling samples we would be able to do
I am writing you while at sea, aboard the R/V Roger Revelle,
conducting a site survey cruise for an IODP proposal to investigate
the evolution of the Western Pacific Warm Pool, which plays a critical
role in modern climate, particularly El Niño. That scientific
objective is very important, but this cruise is equally important to
me in my professional development as a research scientist. I am here
along with a nine other graduate students and post docs to learn the
skills to design and conduct shipboard research. The experience has
been amazing, and I have loved every second of it. This is a passion
for all of us aboard, and for many of our peers.
It might be selfish to ask you to renew the program because it is
something I am excited about, or because my professional prospects
will be curtailed. Those are valid reasons none-the-less, and they
certainly complement the myriad of scientific needs that demand
renewal. For the sake of our science, and those of us who are
passionate about this work and want to build our careers on it, please
renew IODP.

Cordially yours,

Chris Lowery
Ph.D. candidate
Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts