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Santorini: Volcanic eruptions at the center of oceanographic research of the drilling rig “JOIDES Resolution”


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Three Greek scientists of the international oceanographic expedition to the volcanoes of Santorini emphasize that Greece should join the European ECORD marine research program

During this period, in the volcanic complex of Santorini, Columbus and Christians, an oceanographic mission unique for Greek data is being carried out. For the first time, one of the largest US research vessels, the impressive drilling ship “JOIDES Resolution”, 143 meters long, is located in the Aegean for the realization of the “Hellenic Arc Volcanic Field-IODP Expedition 398” international subsea research drilling mission.

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The program, in which leading international research organizations participate, is funded by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), which studies the evolution of the Earth and climate change. The oceanographic mission started in December 2022 and is expected to end on February 10, 2023 with the arrival of JOIDES Resolution in Heraklion, Crete.

The purpose of the mission is to carry out subsea research drilling to recover hundreds of meters of sediment core below the sea floor, in order to to form a complete record of the geological history of the active volcanic complex of Santorini the last three million years. After the end of the mission, scientists will know how many volcanic eruptions have taken place and when in the area of ​​Santorini, disproving previous theories that lacked this data. In addition, material will be collected to explore the microbial life in the deep substrate in the Santorini caldera, to identify microorganisms that play a key role in the formation of important geological structures, as well as to assess their potential in biotechnological applications.

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Greece participates in the mission with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (EKPA) and the Associate Professor of the Department of Geology and Geoenvironment, Dr. and with the Hellenic Marine Research Center (ELKETHE) and the Principal Researcher in the Department of Environmental Microbiology, Dr. Paraskevi Polymenakou.

The ship is manned by approximately 30 scientists from various countries, 25 technical personnel and 62 crew members. The lead scientists are Professor TH Druitt (France) and Dr S. Kutterolf (Germany). The cost of the oceanographic mission is approximately 25 million dollars and is the most important research investment in marine research in Greece to date.

The scientific strand is complemented by an ambitious public outreach program, offering opportunities for young scientists and students to train and participate in research at an international level, as well as for the public and schools to learn about scientific findings in real time through social networks, of live links and webinars. There have been dozens of online educational tours of the ship’s laboratories and areas by Greek schools under the guidance of Ms. Nomikou. The students observe how a drilling is carried out, what machines the scientists use on the ship, how the drilling ship works and why offshore drilling is necessary.

The importance of ECORD for Greece

As Ms. Nomikou emphasizes to the Athens Agency, “in order to have the possibility of Greek scientists participating in such important missions, Greece should join the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD)”. It is a management structure of 15 member states (14 European countries and Canada) in the field of undersea Earth exploration, established in 2003 as part of the International Ocean Exploration Program (IODP).

“The Greek scientists who are participating in the mission and having lived the experience of exploring the most active underwater space in Greece, we ask the Greek government to contribute to the inclusion of Greece in ECORD”, says Ms. Polymenakou. He emphasizes that “Greece’s accession to ECORD is a request to unite the Greek scientific and research community in the field of the sea, and it will have fundamental benefits”.

According to Ms. Nomikou, “while ECORD’s scientific activities are at the forefront of efforts to protect the oceans and seas, are unanimously supported by the EU member states and reflected in the decisions of the EU Council, Greece has ceased to be member of ECORD from 1996 until today. As a result, our country is deprived of the benefits of membership enjoyed by the European scientists of the ECORD member countries”.

The benefits of Greece from joining ECORD, according to the Greek researchers, include the possibilities of new underwater research, the development of new technologies, the training of young scientists, joint programming with other countries and the reduction of the cost of research activities, the transfer of research into applications of the results, submission of research proposals to the MagellanPlus Program of IODP and ECORD, participation in IODP research missions, full access to the ocean drilling data of the last 50 years, participation in the ECORD training program that includes summer schools, scholarships, grants and lectures by distinguished scientists, as well as participation in IODP committees.

The benefits also include basic knowledge of the underwater Greek space and its paleogeographical evolution, applied research with positive social and economic impacts, economic development of the country based on critical mineral raw materials, energy resources and sources of innovative genes with biotechnological and biomedical applications, contributing to the development of national environmental policy and climate change issues, understanding and addressing marine geo-hazards, national foreign policy and shipping (e.g. maritime accident investigation).

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