Announcement of the Non-Renewal of the JOIDES Resolution Operations and Maintenance Cooperative Agreement
March 9, 2023
The drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution (JR) is nearing retirement and the National Science Foundation has chosen not to renew the cooperative agreement with Texas A&M University for its operations and maintenance to focus efforts and funds towards the sustainable evolution of the ocean science drilling community. NSF will continue to support the U.S. community through investments in research of existing samples and planning for the future of scientific ocean drilling. However, the final year of JR operations will be Fiscal Year (FY) 2024.
The JR is the most cost and operationally effective of the platforms operated as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and, as such, it is the most utilized of the scientific ocean drilling assets. It currently costs approximately $72 million per year to operate the JR. Since 2014 and through 2024, NSF has provided $48 million annually to Texas A&M University as the JR Science Operator under the current Cooperative Agreement. The JR is a 45-year-old vessel with an Environmental Impact Statement that is set to expire in 2028. Extending it beyond 2028 would require significant time and expense.
NSF has helped maintain the international scientific ocean drilling enterprise with the understanding that our international partners would provide sufficient support through annual contributions and expedition-specific project contributions. However, due to changing priorities, our international partners have indicated they will not consider increased contributions necessary to counteract rising operational costs.Therefore, a new equitable model needs to be developed in partnership with the scientific community.
Scientific ocean drilling has significantly contributed to understanding the broader Earth system, from how Earth’s system of tectonic plates operates to how climate variability impacts sea level, ocean biology, and continental ecosystems. NSF recognizes the importance of these contributions. By ending support for the JR now, those 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.
NSF will support the winding down of activities related to the JR. NSF will continue to fund core sample repositories and research of 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.
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 engage early career scientists in helping plan the future of scientific ocean drilling and promote these opportunities. NSF will support and facilitate thoughtful 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 (email@example.com). Media inquiries should be directed to NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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