My good friend Ken Brunot had just jettisoned his long time job at Chevron in La Habra California to join a new project at Scripps institution of oceanography in La Jolla California. Ken became the project engineer on the deep sea drilling project, a national science foundation funded program under the leadership of the university of California’s oceanographic institution at Scripps in La Jolla. This project was at a turning point meaning that it was going to leap forward to become one of the most leading edge technology programs in America or it was going to fail due to lack of progress and leadership. KENBRUNOT was to become a key player in the success of this project in integrating private industry Technology in drilling and petroleum with the geological sciences scientific community. In this program Scripps institution of oceanography was supported by an organization consisting of several oceanographic institutions around the country by the name of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions forDeep Earth Sampling. (JOIDES).
It was at about this same time that Ken gave me a copy of the national science foundation request for proposal to read. As I read the scope of work for this incredible project I could not help but be excited about where this program was going to lead America and indeed the world in the geological sciences. For many years there had been a static geologic theory that the shape of the earth had always been just the way it was then.However there was a competing hypothesis known. as continental drift. For example if you took Africa and pushed it across the ocean it would be a perfect fit with South America meaning that the seafloor appeared to be a dynamic plate or plates that were moving over time driven by some unknown force.
The national science foundation was becoming impatient as the leader ship for the project was not moving the program ahead it was out of schedule and above budget and the contracting officer from the national science foundation made a trip to La Jolla to sit down with the project staff and clear the air . His name was Bill Bolton and he was a tough customer. He threatened to terminate the project if it did not make strides and achieve certain objectives and milestones immediately. One of these actions to be taken was the appointment of a project manager who had a proven track record getting things done. After a brief review a decision was reached by the director of Scripps institution of oceanography and Bolton the contracting officer from NSF to appoint KENBRUNOT as the project manager. Shortly after that decision was made an offer was made to me to join the project as director of contracts which was another critical position which had been understaffed. This was a federal government funded project requiring a thorough knowledge of federal contracting policy which I had gained in an earlier assignment —a role in which I felt very comfortable. soon after KENBRUNOT was appointed the project manager things started to roll quickly. His team emerged as professionals from industry and the scientific community. At KENBRUNOT‘s initiative a consultant by the name of Richard Green was engaged by the project to set up a War Room where program leadership met to review project progress and create plans for future work actions. A dynamic form of leadership emerged and the project took off.
One thing that was commonly understood was that this project would shift from an industry lead program in which the management was tuned in to professional management under current industrial practice and then would shift at a later stage to be managed by the scientists after the initial technology had been proven and tested at sea. There was no timeframe put on the date when this transition would take place but it was always known that it would happen and that a new leader ship would emerge from the scientific community at a later stage of the project. Working alongside KENBRUNOT as the project manager was Dr. Mel Peterson who was the chief scientist.The entire integrated scientific effort involving the various oceanographic institutions that took part in this program we’re under the leadership of Mel Peterson as Chief Scientist.
Another key person early in the project that helped move it forward was the project engineer Darrell Simms.Darrell had been an engineer on the mohole project which was another NSF program but one which had failed years earlier. Simms was a true innovator. He cut to the chase and design ideas and never spared an envelope to demonstrate his design ideas. Without his innovative practical approach the deep sea drilling project would have never been a success story that it was.
No discussion of success can take place regarding the deep sea drilling project without mention of Arch McLarren the national science foundation on site senior representative who was a key person in acting as the interface between Scripps and the government. His steady and wise hands were a major factor for the success of this project.
Finally sound legal advice was a major factor in obtaining success for this project. University’s attorney assigned to this project was Warren Levin bright and capable and effective in all respects. Without him this project would never have succeeded to the extent that it did.
in order to achieve the technological feat required to accomplish this project a highly advanced technological vehicle in the form of a drilling ship would be required. A drilling ship named the Glomar Challenger was provided under the subcontract as a new vessel for this project. The principal subcontractor furnishing this vessel was Global Marine of Los Angeles. The ship was constructed in Orange Texas. The ship is equipped with a dynamic positioning system which focused on sonar beacons implanted on the ocean floor. The positioning system would sense movement of the ship to and from the beacon and then re-position the ship by thruster motors in the positioning system. Drilling took place in water depths up to 20,000 feet from which core samples were extracted from below the seafloor and lifted on board, refrigerated and then examined by the scientific crew on board the ship.
Once operations begin the ship was at sea for 60 day legs during which core samples for extracted from the ocean bottoms at select places which were picked by the scientific staff. Some key drilling operations were conducted across the middle Atlantic and mid Pacific rises which were volcanic in nature. Key findings were made at these locations such that the seafloor was actually spreading as volcanic activity pushed the adjacent sea floor as a gigantic conveyor belt which in turn moved the overriding continental shelves. It was this mechanism which was the root force in the rewriting of geologic text books to reflect the newly established continental drift theory and never again would the thinking be the same about the ocean floor, it’s spread and the tectonic movements that shape a dynamic ocean floor. The deep sea drilling project continued for many years based on the initial success and ingenuity and hard work of the first team that inaugurated this world famous contribution to the field of geology .