DCO Project Summary

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Project Title
Oman Drilling Project
Start DateEnd Date
2014-04-01 2017-03-31
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The Samail ophiolite in Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the world’s largest, best-exposed, and most-studied subaerial block of oceanic crust and upper mantle. In an ongoing dialogue between geological studies of the ophiolite and seagoing investigations along modern oceanic ridges, observations from Oman and the UAE are central to scientific understanding of oceanic plates formed at spreading centers. Observations of mantle peridotites overlying the subduction zone thrust, which carried the ophiolite onto the Arabian continental margin, reveal an unexpected reservoir of carbon, derived from subducted sediments and precipitated as carbonate minerals in the mantle wedge. This could form an important, hitherto unrecognized part of the global carbon cycle. And, following on ground-breaking work in the 1980’s, there has been a recent surge of interest in the Samail ophiolite as the ideal site for studies of weathering in mantle peridotite, together with the subsurface biosphere fueled by microbial catalysis of low temperature alteration reactions. Such studies will contribute to understanding of microbial ecosystems in extreme environments and the origin of life.  

Following a successful workshop in September 2012, our international team of 38 investigators proposes a comprehensive drilling program in the Samail ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman. Via observations on core, geophysical logging, fluid sampling, hydrological measurements, and microbiological sampling in a series of diamond- and rotary-drilled boreholes, we will address long-standing, unresolved questions regarding melt and solid transport in the mantle beneath oceanic spreading ridges, mass transfer between the oceans and the crust via hydrothermal alteration, and recycling of volatile components in subduction zones. We will undertake frontier exploration of subsurface weathering processes in mantle peridotite, natural mechanisms of carbon dioxide uptake from surface waters and the atmosphere via alteration and weathering, the process of reaction-driven cracking, and the nature of the subsurface biosphere in peridotite undergoing alteration and weathering. This aspect of the Oman Drilling Project is the one that is co-funded by the Sloan Foundation as part of the Integrative Field Studies for the Deep Carbon Observatory, Sloan Foundation Grant No: G-2014-3-01  Societally relevant aspects of our project include the involvement and training of university students in earth science research, including numerous students from Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. Studies of the natural system of mineral carbonation in peridotite will contribute to design of engineered systems for geological carbon dioxide capture and solid storage. More generally, our studies of alteration will contribute to fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of reaction-driven cracking: chemical reactions that cause subsurface cracking, enhancing permeability and reactive surface area, in a positive feedback mechanism. The results of these studies studies could enhance geothermal power generation and extraction of unconventional hydrocarbon resources.


Scientific drilling of the Semail Ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman, commencing in late 2015 and continuing into 2017, represents a unique opportunity to understand the activities and distributions of a deep continental microbial biosphere associated with serpentinization. The project will drill up to 400 m into the ophiolite complex and is our best opportunity to-date to understand spatiotemporal relationships between serpentinization and subsurface life. The major goal of the Oman Drilling Project is to understand the conditions leading to low-temperature serpentinization and their consequences for carbon cycling, including their impact upon subsurface microbial communities. The DLC community will (1) work closely with hydrogeologists studying fluid flow and fluid chemistry in the Semail Ophiolite, (2) support activities aimed at instrumenting excavated wells to facilitate future observatory studies, and (3) conduct fluorescently activated cell sorting for downstream single cell genomics analyses. These efforts will all enable the study of microbial biogeography and dispersal in the serpentinitehosted subsurface environment.

Project UpdatesClick to add Project Update

Reporting Year 2017 Click to expand

Reporting Year 2015 Click to expand

  • Update 2015: Oman Drilling Project - submitted on Oct 02, 2015

    Update Details:

    Submitted by Peter Kelemen, September 2015

    Specific progress since our last report in September 2014 has been slow. Supported by this grant, we held a very successful dinner for more than 60 participants at the Fall 2014 AGU Meeting in San Francisco, where Peter Kelemen outlined progress in obtaining funding to date, and plans for the future. Separately, the Deep Carbon Observatory sponsored a meeting for their Executive Committee in Oman in January 2015, and Kelemen took Executive Committee members on a field trip associated with that meeting. Kelemen also did field work with various groups involved in Oman Drilling, including Dr. Jürg Matter (University of Southampton, UK) and his graduate student Nicolas , Prof. Damon Teagle (University of Southampton, UK) and his graduate student Barbara Zihlmann, Prof. Danny Stöckli (University of Texas, Austin) and his graduate student Emily Goldstein, and Alexis Templeton (University of Colorado) and her graduate student Hannah Miller.  We collected samples of altered peridotite and water for our ongoing studies of peridotite alteration and associated microbial ecosystems.

    Inspired by observations of carbonated peridotite overlying subducted sediments along the basal thrust of the Oman ophiolite, Kelemen and Oman Drilling Project Steering Committee member, Prof. Craig Manning wrote and published a paper on the subduction zone carbon cycle, in summer 2014 through spring 2015.

    This was invited as an inaugural paper in the Proceedings of the (US) National Academy of Sciences, in recognition of Kelemen’s recent election to the Academy. Our paper is included with this report. Kelemen reported on this work at two DCO meetings, one in Münich in early March 2015, and one in Berkeley in early July 2015. I’m happy to report that this work has been well-received, and indeed our summary figure served as kind of an organizational centerpiece for the speakers at the Berkeley workshop. Kelemen also presented this work at the Fall 2014 AGU Meeting, and in lectures at several Universities. Manning will present this work at the Fall 2015 AGU Meeting.

    This work has been or will be presented at the Fall 2014 and Fall 2015 AGU Meetings by Kelemen, Falk, Miller, Rioux and VanTongeren.

    Kelemen and Dr. Jürg Matter used Sloan funds to purchase equipment for geophysical logging and water sampling in boreholes in the spring of 2015. Our hope was for Jürg and a graduate student to use this equipment later in the spring to refine the location of drill sites to investigate active peridotite alteration. However, Matter was not able to do this work, because he could not use a wireline logging truck belonging to the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources (MRMWR, pronounced “murmur”), pending approval of an MOU between the University of Southampton and MRMWR. Instead, Matter traveled to Oman in June, just before the beginning of the month-long Ramadan fast, to facilitate discussions of the MOU and drill site permitting process. These discussions are ongoing, and are intimately tangled with plans for drilling, which we still hope will begin in January 2016. A webinar followed by an application process for project participants is planned in October 2015.

    Dr. Matter officially became Director of the Oman Drilling Project in the late spring of 2015. He has been relieved of teaching duties at Southampton for a few years in order to devote himself to this project full time. Using ICDP funds, we hired and are paying a Project Administrator, Jude Coggan, who is based in Southampton. Kelemen is now “Chief Scientist”, with a more advisory role. As before, Kelemen, Matter and Prof. Damon Teagle (Univ Southampton) are the lead PI’s on the IODP project.

    In November, we plan to go ahead with Drilling Phase I, starting in mid January and continuing into March 2016. Phase I will involve wireline diamond core drilling the lower crust and mid-crustal section in Wadi Gideah (sites GT1 and GT2), the Maqsad Diapir crustal-mantle transition, and the Wadi Mansah listvenite and basal thrust section. Phase I will also include rotary drilling of one to two boreholes at the planned active alteration site in the mantle peridotite. Phase II drilling activities are scheduled for January – March 2017. These will include wireline diamond core drilling of the sheeted dike - gabbro boundary and the active serpentinization system.  You can find more detailed information about the proposed drill sites on the Oman Drilling Project website: http://www.omandrilling.ac.uk

Reporting Year 2016 Click to expand

  • Update 2016: Oman Drilling Project - submitted on ,

    Update Details:

    Since last year’s Progress Report, there have been several notable accomplishments. 
    Permitting, Logistics, and Sloan Leveraged Funding
    After a year of unexpected delays, we obtained permits for drilling from the Omani government. Funded in part by the Sloan Foundation grant, Jürg Matter was in Oman in November, January and March, Peter Kelemen was there in January and April, and Damon Teagle went in January and April. While some research was done, the primary purpose of all of these trips was to visit Ministries, Universities, Embassies and members of the Royal Court. Most of these visits achieved very little, and in particular many hours were spent fruitlessly waiting in an anteroom for appointments with the Minister at the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources (MRMWR) that never materialized. 
    Finally, in April, there was a breakthrough. In-Country Project Manager Zahir Suleimani (Director of the Oman Water Center) suggested that we ask the Vice Chancellor of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), Ali Al Bemani, to contact his counterpart the Minister at MRMWR, and offer to have SQU take over primary responsibility for the project. Zahir went so far as to stay behind after our meeting with Al Bemani, to give him the Minister’s personal cell phone number. A meeting ensued, with leading personnel from MRMWR and SQU, plus Peter Kelemen and Damon Teagle. Several key points emerged. The meeting was mainly in Arabic, because the Minister and his key advisor do not speak or read English well. The Minister and his advisor believed that MRMWR had been designated as the lead Oman agency in the Drilling Project, but they did not wish to have this responsibility. They had sent our various proposals to the Council of Ministers (the cabinet-level body in Oman, a very busy group), and then made no inquiries about the progress of these proposals. They were averse to being associated with anything related to carbon capture and storage (CCS), based on newspaper editorials (in Arabic) that appeared many years ago, equating countries that accept toxic electronic waste (e-waste) with countries involved in CCS. Because they had not read the drilling proposal and related documents carefully, they were not aware that the Oman Drilling Project does not include CCS experiments, despite our focus on natural CO2 uptake during weathering of mantle peridotite. As they came to understand the nature of the Project during the meeting, they were more favorably inclined, but they remained cautious. As a result, they were happy to cede the role of leading agency in Oman for the Oman Drilling Project to SQU. Nevertheless, before agreeing to this, they sought and received assurances from SQU and from us that MRMWR would still receive technical training and donations of hydrological equipment as a result of the project. All agreed and the meeting ended cordially. 
    Over the summer, there were several Omani-only meetings of a committee set up to review the drill site proposals, including environmental impacts. In response to requests from this committee, we had to move some sites a few kilometers to comply with a rule that none were within 3.5 km of existing wells. After this, all sites were approved. Drilling will begin in November of this year, and the first phase of drilling will be complete by the end of April 2017. The second phase of drilling will take place in the winter of 2018.  
    In last year’s report, we described how the Sloan Foundation was the first-mover in funding the Oman Drilling Project (although the pending ICDP proposal pre-dated our Sloan proposal). Due in part to Sloan’s confidence in us, our ICDP proposal was approved. As part of the ICDP proposal, the IODP offered in-kind support, so that we will use the international drilling vessels Chikyu (based at the Japanese Marine Science and Technology Center, JAMSTEC) and Joides Resolution (operated by IODP’s office at Texas A&M University). Many additional grants in support of drilling and drilling-related research have since been obtained, as enumerated in Appendix 10. We currently have about $3.2M for drilling operations, and about $11.9M for drilling related research, with additional proposals pending and in preparation (particularly in the UK). The combined total of about $12M represents additional funding equal to about 33 times the initial Sloan investment as first-movers.
    We listed 60 personnel involved in funded projects (that we know about) related to Oman Drilling in Appendix 9. Though there is overlap, there are many additional personnel among the 43 proponents of the ICDP Oman Drilling proposal (Appendix 12) and the 100 scientists who have applied to join the Oman Drilling Project Investigator pool (Appendix 13). Now that drilling and core description operations are permitted and scheduled, we expect the Investigator Pool to grow rapidly. Among these personnel, roughly half are graduate students, postdocs, and early career scientists (assistant professors and the equivalent). In addition, 10 to 20 Omani grad students will take part in the Project, most notably shoulder-to-shoulder with an international team of specialists on the drill ships for core description operations. We are sure this will be a uniquely rewarding experience for all involved. 
    Scientific accomplishments
    While the primary scientific accomplishments of the Oman Drilling Project lie ahead, we’ve published several high impact papers stemming from discussions between the participants during the proposal process, and field work in preparation for drilling. Perhaps closest to DCO goals is the paper by Kelemen & Manning (2015). This was Kelemen’s invited, inaugural paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as a newly elected member of the Academy, which allowed relaxed length criteria that facilitated a thorough review of the carbon fluxes into and out of subduction zones. Our review was coupled with new, first-order estimates of carbon solubility in high pressure aqueous fluids facilitated by Craig Manning’s pioneering experimental work and the thermodynamic understanding of these systems developed by Dmitri Sverjensky and Everett Shock in recent years, much of it funded and stimulated by the DCO. 
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