Drilling in the deep sea

Object of the Month: 06/2010

What is it?:

drill bit

Where was it collected:

Donated by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.


35.5 cm tall, 25cm in diameter


185 lbs.

What is it made of?:

Steel and hardened tungsten-carbide

Drilling a hole through thousands of feet of solid rock under a mile or more of water—for scientific purposes, or to access offshore wells of gas and oil—requires powerful, sophisticated tools. This giant steel drill bit, covered in super-hard tungsten carbide bumps, was meant for just such a job.

In Fall 2005, scientists from the Joint Oceanographic Institute used this drill bit to extract rock samples from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Bryan Kennedy of The Science Museum of Minnesota was part of that team, and brought back this drill bit for us.

While this drill bit was made to collect rock samples from under the ocean floor, similar bits are used to drill for oil. While drilling for oil, huge safety valves called “blowout preventers” are used. Blowout preventers manage the pressure in deep oil and gas wells. When the Deepwater Horizon drill rig sank in April 2010, the blowout preventer malfunctioned, allowing millions of gallons of oil to leak from the well into the Gulf of Mexico.

Keep reading to learn more about deep-sea drilling, and about the BP oil spill.

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