Posted on behalf of Nicola Jones.
The Japanese research ship Chikyu – which holds the world record for being able to drill deepest into the ocean floor – was damaged by Japan’s recent tsunami. It is not yet clear how severe the damage is.
At the time of Friday’s earthquake, the Chikyu (whose name means ‘Earth’) was in port at Hachinohe, preparing for International Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) expedition number 337. The ship left port as an emergency measure, but was damaged nevertheless. The IODP reports on their website that “the exact circumstances are still under investigation,” but that “all personnel and visitors aboard … are safe and accounted for.” This includes a group of elementary school students who were on board for a field trip.
Expedition 337 has been cancelled, though it may be rescheduled for a later date. It was intended to investigate a novel ecosystem: microbial communities living in a coalbed deep under the ocean floor. The 2-month project was due to start 15 March.
Ironically, the Chikyu is also being used in a project to drill into the seismic zone of the Nankai Trough (a few hundred kilometers southwest of where this earthquake struck), in order to study earthquake generation in the area.
Image: The Chikyu / JAMSTEC
UPDATE: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) press officer Noriko Katakura clarifies that the damage is to one of Chikyu’s 6 thrusters, which are used to maneuver the ship and keep it stationary during drilling. “Although Chikyu still manages to navigate under her own power, the condition of the vessel must be examined after docking at a suitable port facility.” she wrote to Nature.