Announcement of the Non-Renewal of the JOIDES Resolution Operations and Maintenance Cooperative Agreement
March 31, 2023
The National Science Foundation has chosen not to renew its cooperative agreement with Texas A&M University for operations and maintenance of the drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution (JR). The final year of full JR operations as an NSF-provided platform in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) will be Fiscal Year (FY) 2024. NSF will continue to support the U.S. scientific ocean drilling community through investments in research utilizing existing samples and data and will work with the research community to plan for the future of scientific ocean drilling.
The JR is the most utilized of the scientific ocean drilling assets in IODP, currently costing approximately $72 million per year to operate. Over the past decade, NSF has provided around $48 million annually to Texas A&M University for operations with the balance supplied by international partners. However, costs are rising rapidly in the current economic environment and our international partners have indicated they will not consider the increased contributions necessary to counteract rising operational costs. Therefore, the current model for providing a drilling platform such as the JR has become unsustainable.
NSF will support the winding down of activities related to the JR. NSF will also continue to fund core sample repositories and research using these previously collected cores and related data, and encourages proposals seeking to use those cores at any of the three repositories. Further, we encourage proposals utilizing alternate or mission-specific scientific ocean drilling platforms.
Scientific ocean drilling has significantly contributed to understanding the broader Earth system and NSF recognizes the importance of these contributions. By ending support for the JR now, funds and resources can be directed towards ensuring a sustainable future for the scientific ocean drilling community. Planning for the next generation of scientific ocean drilling must begin in FY 2023 as any new facility will take years to realize. If JR operations were to continue until FY 2028, the draw on resources needed to plan a new program and continue science operations would have significant negative impacts on the entire ocean science research community.
One of NSF’s most important missions is to create pathways from diverse communities across the Nation into the STEM community and research enterprise. The future of scientific ocean drilling needs to fully realize opportunities to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in an equitable manner. We will seek to broadly engage researchers including early career scientists in helping plan the future of scientific ocean drilling and promote these opportunities. NSF will support and facilitate continued community conversation regarding future scientific ocean drilling objectives, new approaches in methodology and platforms, and international engagement.
For additional information regarding this decision and the status of future plans and activities, please see answers to the frequently asked questions below. Inquiries can be directed to NSF’s Ocean Drilling Program (firstname.lastname@example.org). Media inquiries should be directed to NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (email@example.com).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The Current Decision
Why is the JR being retired now and not in 2028?
It costs a total of $72 M per year to operate the JR. Since 2014 and through 2024, NSF provides $48 M per year to Texas A&M University as the JR Science Operator. The vessel itself is owned by Siem Offshore. The JR is a 44-year-old vessel with an Environmental Impact Statement that is set to expire in 2028. Extending it beyond that period would require significant time and expense. Additionally, international contributions to IODP and to JR operations have significantly decreased even as costs have continued to increase. NSF is choosing to end support for the JR now, rather than continuing operations from 2025 to 2028, because it wants to ensure a sustainable future for the scientific ocean drilling community. Regardless of when JR operations end, planning for the next generation of scientific ocean drilling must begin in fiscal year 2023 as any new facility will take years to realize. If JR operations do not end until 2028, the resources needed to plan a new program and continue science operations would have significant negative impacts on the entire ocean science research community.
What will happen to the JR?
Neither NSF nor Texas A&M University own the JR. NSF has funded Texas A&M University as the JR Science Operator and TAMU has contracted the use of the vessel from Siem Offshore. During the later part of FY 2024, the vessel will undergo a brief period of demobilization.
What will happen during the disposition period?
The end of operations for the JR will require an approximately five-year time frame to demobilize the vessel and wind down related activities. This five-year disposition timeline is primarily governed by post-cruise publication responsibilities by the JRSO, which NSF is obliged to maintain, as well as data archival activities and core repository sample management.
Will the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) be renewed after 2024?
The International Ocean Discovery Program is separate from NSF. During the September 2022 IODP Forum Meeting, attendees engaged in discussion related to post-IODP scientific ocean drilling activities. A summary of this discussion and slides from relevant presentations can be found on the IODP website.
Will NSF continue to collaborate with international partners?
NSF has non-binding memoranda with several countries which have guided our scientific ocean drilling partnerships. New memoranda are in review that outline governance of and access to US-cores stored internationally at Bremen University in German and Kochi University in Japan. NSF recognizes the importance of international collaboration in the scientific ocean drilling community and will continue to engage with our partners.
What will happen to core samples stored in the U.S. and abroad?
Under the current award, Texas A&M maintains a large core repository where 156 kilometers of US-owned cores are stored and analyzed. NSF will continue to support the maintenance of these repositories. There are also 310 kilometers of US-owned cores stored internationally at Bremen University in Germany and Kochi University in Japan, currently at no cost to the US, through an agreement for reciprocal access. NSF intends to use the disposition period to develop a plan for core maintenance, either in place or consolidated here in the US.
When can proposals to study existing samples and data be submitted?
NSF has always accepted proposals to study previously collected core samples. If you are interested in submitting a proposal, you may do so via Research.gov. Additional information related to accessing cores and data can be found via the IODP website.
Will a new drill ship be constructed? How long does this process take?
It is possible that a new drill ship could be constructed, based on community discussions on the future of scientific ocean drilling, the development of a supportable operational model, and considering portfolio balance within Ocean Sciences and the GEO Directorate at NSF. The expected investment in a new drill ship for NSF would require working through the NSF’s Major Facilities Equipment and Construction (or MREFC) process, outlined in the Research Infrastructure Guide. This requires significant time commitment in development, design (conceptual, preliminary, and final), and construction. MREFC projects can take years or even decades to develop.
Can a drill ship be leased in the meantime like the JR was?
NSF did not lease the JR, the TAMU Foundation was the lessor. NSF has significant constraints on leasing capital assets that may preclude the agency from directly leasing a future vessel.
How will funds previously used to support O&M of the JR be allocated in future?
OCE intends to use the funds currently dedicated to scientific ocean drilling to fund opportunities for drilling-related research activities. These can include leveraging core samples and archived data, providing continuous early career support and workforce development opportunities, and funding new expeditions on mission specific and alternative platforms. The available funding will also allow for alternative approaches or drilling platforms, and all the community and NSF to consider more fully what the future of scientific ocean drilling could look like.
Can proposals be submitted to fund the use of alternate drilling platforms or mission specific platforms?
Yes, interested PIs can submit proposals to use alternate drilling or mission specific platforms.
How will students and early-career scientists be supported without a drill ship?
NSF recognizes that the JR provides a unique opportunity for students and early career scientists. We plan to engage with the early career scientists to work with them on what the future of scientific ocean drilling could look like. As we work through that process, leveraging core sample and archived data and funding new expeditions on mission specific or alternate drilling platforms will provide students and scientists opportunities to continue addressing critical science questions.
Will non-U.S. scientists still be able to access U.S.-owned cores and related data?
What about after the five-year disposition period?
It is NSF’s plan to continue these activities into the future.
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.