Why drill into the ocean floor?

Rocks tell the story of the Earth.

  • Tiny fossils in the core sample tell us what the ocean environment was like at different points in time, and at different spots around the globe.
  • Their chemical make-up reveals what the climate was like at the time the rocks formed.
  • The types of rocks, their abundance and depth, helps us learn how the Earth formed.

Rocks on land are easy enough to get, but most of the Earth’s surface lies beneath the ocean waves. Thus, to get the full story, we need to drill a hole in the bottom of the sea.

OK, how do you drill into the ocean floor?

First, engineers erect a derrick on the deck of the ship. They place the drill bit at the bottom of a heavy steel pipe, thousands of feet long. The weight of the pipe pushes the drill bit into the ocean floor. A rig on the ship turns the bit, drilling into the rock below.

After drilling down about 15 feet, they pull the sample up to the surface, and then continue digging deeper. In good conditions, engineers can dig about 15 feet an hour – but rough seas or hard rock will slow the pace.

Want to learn more about ocean floor drilling?

Read about Bryan's adventure in our Scientist on the Spot feature:

Bryan answered questions from visitors while he was at sea:

Learn more about the Joint Oceanic Institute’s School of Rock program.