Ship aims to sample deepest-ever life

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A Japanese deep sea drilling vessel, Chikyu, yesterday set a new world record, by drilling down over 2,111 meters below the seafloor to collect rock samples.

The ship is off Shimokita Peninsula of Japan in the northwest Pacific Ocean, as part of the Deep Coalbed Biosphere expedition, which aims to collect high-quality samples from the deeply buried coal formation.

The team hopes to gain new insights into the life associated with a hydrocarbon system deep beneath the ocean.

"We have just opened a window to the new era of scientific ocean drilling. The extended record is just a beginning for the Chikyu," says Fumio Inagaki, co-chief scientist for the expedition.  

"This scientific vessel has tremendous potentials to explore very deep realms that humans have never studied before. The deep samples are precious, and I am confident that our challenges will extend our systematic understanding of nature of life and Earth."

Chikyu is in fact capable of drilling much more deeply, says the team:  as far as 10,000 meters below sea level. It's designed to reach right down to the Earth's mantle, the plate boundary seisomogenic zones and the deep biosphere.

The expedition will now continue taking cores to obtain even deeper rock samples and formation fluids using a new borehole wire-line instrument.

For the next three weeks, they'll continue to explore the deeply buried coal formation, in which microbes may be involved in the formation of natural gas, hoping to help answer fundamental scientific questions related to the evolution of life.