Ship Drills Ocean Floor To Learn Earth's History And Future

While the Joides Resolution is anchored at the Alabama State Docks, the crew stocks the ship getting it ready for another long trip at sea.

"The ship goes out for two months at a time. Drills all over the world," tour guide Mathew Niemitz says.

Since 1968, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program has made wholes in the ocean floor.

Pipes travel thousands of meters into the earth's crust to gather rocks and sentiment. The ship's floating laboratory allows the crew to study the samples on board.

No other ship can do anything like it.

"We are the only ship in the world currently that's capable of drilling in the ocean floor and recovering these core specifically for scientific research," Niemitz says.

So what exactly can scientist find out about the earth by studying the ocean floor?

"The earth's history is written with greater clarity with sentiments on the sea floor than anywhere on the face of the planet. This ship is designed to harvest that record," Texas A&M Scientist Jeff Fox says.

Those records map out past climate changes, deep biosphere and solid earth cycles.

The program's had some substantial finds.

"Back in the early 1990s, we drilled off the coast of Florida and found a core that shows where the asteroid impacted the earth and killed off the dinosaurs," Niemitz says.

With each trip, more and more of the past is being uncovered.

"There's lots of places we haven't been to. The ocean's a huge, huge place," Niemitz adds.

Scientists hope discovering history will help us understand the future.