University of Hawai'i
(808) 956-8856 Telephone
For Immediate Release:
March 12, 1999
Contact: Don Thomas, SOEST (808) 974-7398, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryl Ernst, 956-8856
UH Spearheads $12 Million Drilling Project to Explore a Million Years of Big Island Volcanic History
A time machine will begin operating this month in Hilo, Hawaii. The Hawaii Scientific Drilling Project will travel a million years into the past by boring thousands of feet down into the volcanic island.
Researchers hope to reach a depth of 15,000 feet, almost 3 miles beneath the surface, producing a continuous sequence of samples from now-buried lava flows that formed Mauna Kea volcano. The oldest samples will come from Mauna Kea when it was younger than the submarine Lo'ihi volcano is now.
The cooperative research project involving the University of Hawai'i, University of California, Berkeley, and California Institute of Technology is the culmination of more than 10 years of scientific review, testing and analysis. It will literally unearth history-unraveling the planetary processes that produced the Hawaiian Island chain. Drilling will go as deep-and as far back- as technology and available funding permit.
"This will be one of the most important scientific drilling programs funded by the National Science Foundation during the coming decade," said C. Barry Raleigh, dean of the UH Mo(a,)noa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. "In addition to revealing new clues about the origin of Hawaiian volcanism, it promises insights into volcanic hazards, the history of Earth's magnetic field and groundwater movement deep within the volcanoes."
Scientists from the three partner universities will be joined by researchers from nearly two dozen universities and research institutes around the world. They will conduct an exhaustive analysis of the chemical compositions of the rock samples recovered, their magnetic characteristics and their isotopic compositions. Another research team will conduct geophysical tests in the hole and collect samples of deep groundwater from the different geologic formations that are encountered.
The site-an abandoned quarry located on Department of Transportation land near the Hilo Airport-was selected because it is halfway between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa rift zones, reducing the likelihood of encountering intrusive lavas or hydrothermal alteration of the subsurface rocks. Either condition would produce undesirable characteristics in the samples, making the interpretation of their chemical compositions much more difficult. Also advantageous is the quarry site's location in a topographic low area well away from residential communities of Hilo; drilling activities are unlikely to have detectable impacts on the environment or on the nearest residences.
Sample collection will occur over two six-month drilling intervals. Rock samples will be recovered with a coring system that was designed and fabricated especially for this project. Site preparation and rig mobilization are underway; the first coring effort is expected to begin in mid-March.
Program scientists hope to recover cores to a depth of about 8,000 feet during the initial drilling. The second drilling campaign, to begin in about three years, will attempt to recover samples to a total depth of nearly 15,000 feet.
Analyses of cores recovered during a preliminary drilling program in 1993 indicate that the rocks at this depth may be as old as one million years. Chilly temperatures recorded in the test hole (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit) and the relatively low temperature projected even for the 15,000-foot depth (less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit) suggest that the lavas have been protected from chemical alteration. Thus, researchers will be able to recover nearly pristine samples of early eruptive products from Mauna Kea volcano when it was even younger than Lo'ihi is now.
Mauna Kea core samples will be recovered at the site and processed for preliminary analyses and documentation. A portion of the core will be reserved for permanent archive and the balance will be distributed to cooperating scientists for analysis at their home institutions.
The on-site research team of more than a dozen individuals will consist of research staff members and students from collaborating institutions and recent UH graduates.
In conjunction with the project, UH Hilo will host three national and international workshops and training programs that take advantage of scientific activities associated with the drilling program.
Funding for this research project is being provided by the National Science Foundation ($10.5 million over the life of the project-of which $6.5 million comes to UH for the costs of drilling and on-site science) and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program ($1.5 million plus in-kind scientific and technical support for the drilling and analytical program).
Water Resources International, a Hawai'i-based drilling company, has been contracted to provide the rotary drilling services required by the project. Specialized core-drilling expertise will be provided by Tonto Drilling Services, a Salt Lake Citybased company. DOSECC, an incorporated consortium of universities and research institutes formed by the National Science Foundation to assist with scientific drilling activities throughout the United States, is providing overall management of the drilling and coring activities.
Diane Quitiquit, the director of the Hawai'i County Office of Research and Development, expressed support for the project, saying: "The county is pleased to have been selected as the site for the Hawai'i Scientific Drilling Project. Programs such as these demonstrate that the Big Island offers many unique opportunities for scientific research that contribute to scientific understanding of the island environment as well as the economic health of the Big Island."