Succumbing to budgetary pressures, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to pull out of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) when it expires in September 2013. The decision will leave the scientific ocean drilling programs of both Japan—the co-leader with the United States in the 26-nation IODP—and Europe to fend for themselves while the United States solicits contributions from former IODP countries to return its own drill ship to full-time operation.
Fiscal strains had been building for several years. A doubling of NSF's budget had not materialized, and even future budget increases are doubtful. The cost of fuel for the ship, the JOIDES Resolution, has skyrocketed, and cost overruns in the recent refurbishment of the ship are still being paid off. The proposed new arrangement would streamline the management of drilling, according to NSF officials, allowing new economies. Unspecified "new external sources of revenue" would also be generated.
Last week's announcement did not surprise Japanese drilling officials. They say they will look to the international community not so much for funding as intellectual input in planning and executing the scientific agenda of the far more capable Chikyu drill ship.
This week's issue of Science contains an exclusive report on why NSF took this surprising step, and what it means for the rest of the global scientific community.