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NSF’s response to the Science Mission Requirements report for a potential new U.S. scientific ocean drilling vessel

March 6, 2023

Dear members of the Scientific Ocean Drilling community and editors and authors of the” Science Mission Requirements for a Globally Ranging, Riserless Drilling Vessel for U.S. Scientific Ocean Drilling” report:

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude for the SMR report, submitted to NSF in September 2022. This report was a significant effort to identify the possible capabilities of a future scientific ocean drill ship. I also share a summary for how the report could be used to help direct efforts of the NSF Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE) regarding possible procurement of a new scientific ocean drillship to serve the U.S. science community and NSF’s international science partners.

NSF/OCE recognizes that the U.S. science community has been exceptionally responsive to requests for assistance in determining global scientific needs with respect to scientific ocean drilling. The “NEXT: Scientific Ocean Drilling Beyond 2023” report, as the U.S. contribution to the 2050 Science Framework: Exploring Earth by Scientific Ocean Drilling, provided a vision for a new, encompassing global science program and identified numerous science priorities that a new vessel could enable. The efforts to produce these documents were broad-based and ambitious. They document critical community input to NSF/OCE and International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) partners as justification to pursue a new drillship to replace the JOIDES Resolution (JR). After NSF/OCE received and analyzed the 2050 Framework, internal consideration of next steps for a new drillship led NSF to further request assistance from the U.S. science community, through the U.S. Science Support Program (USSSP), for recommendations of prioritized science mission requirements (SMR) for this potential new drilling vessel. The SMR report was an extensive effort from USSSP, the U.S. Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling (USAC), and the editors and authors. The recommended SMRs depict a vision for a globally ranging drillship operating in the framework of an IODP-like program, with the drillship representing a JR-like platform that performs the operations that the JR currently can perform but modernized and improved. This report has generated substantial discussion within NSF/OCE regarding next steps towards a possible new drilling vessel.

Since NSF/OCE's September 2021 request for assistance in determining SMRs, considerable progress has been made in understanding the financial landscape required to support any future drilling vessel. This analysis illustrated the need for both broad international science participation and financial support for vessel operations costs. Despite demonstrated international scientific interest, broad international financial support for operations has not been identified.

The September 2021 request from NSF/OCE asked for “prioritized science objectives and initiatives as well as prioritized regions of operations and vessel design characteristics.” In considering the recommended SMRs, NSF/OCE understands that prioritization needs to occur in a much broader context, whereby the research priorities for the coming decades of the entire U.S. ocean sciences community and, indeed, the priorities of the U.S. as a nation need to be determined before development of a potential vessel may begin. In the coming years, NSF/OCE intends to engage the U.S. ocean science community in a broad and intensive manner to determine areas of highest priority for ocean drilling, including through the implementation of a second Ocean Sciences Decadal Survey. This activity will help inform future directions for the Division of Ocean Sciences.

In addition to setting long-term priorities, NSF/OCE will continue to support opportunities for the U.S. ocean science community to use available archival resources, and will consider proposals that would utilize a portfolio of drilling platforms. NSF/OCE intends to work closely with the U.S. community and with potential international partners to explore potential pathways for future discovery. Following these efforts, the path forward for scientific ocean drilling and a potential new vessel to support it should be much clearer.

We look forward to working with the U.S. ocean science community as we chart a new course for scientific ocean drilling and ocean sciences overall.


James McManus

Division Director

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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