Coordinated drilling efforts are an important method to investigate active tectonics and magmatic processes related to faults and volcanoes. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) recently sponsored a series of workshops to define the nature of future continental drilling efforts. As part of this series, we convened a workshop to explore how continental scientific drilling can be used to better understand active tectonic and magmatic processes. The workshop, held in Park City, Utah, in May 2013, was attended by 41 investigators from seven countries. Participants were asked to define compelling scientific justifications for examining problems that can be addressed by coordinated programs of continental scientific drilling and related site investigations. They were also asked to evaluate a wide range of proposed drilling projects, based on white papers submitted prior to the workshop.
Participants working on faults and fault zone processes highlighted two overarching topics with exciting potential for future scientific drilling research: (1) the seismic cycle and (2) the mechanics and architecture of fault zones. Recommended projects target fundamental mechanical processes and controls on faulting, and range from induced earthquakes and earthquake initiation to investigations of detachment fault mechanics and fluid flow in fault zones. Participants working on active volcanism identified five themes: the volcano eruption cycle; eruption sustainability, near-field stresses, and system recovery; eruption hazards; verification of geophysical models; and interactions with other Earth systems. Recommended projects address problems that are transferrable to other volcanic systems, such as improved methods for identifying eruption history and constraining the rheological structure of shallow caldera regions. Participants working on chemical geodynamics identified four major themes: large igneous provinces (LIPs), ocean islands, continental hotspot tracks and rifts, and convergent plate margins (subduction zones).
This workshop brought together a diverse group of scientists with a broad range of scientific experience and interests. A particular strength was the involvement of both early-career scientists, who will initiate and carry out these new research programs, and more senior researchers with many years of experience in scientific drilling and active tectonics research. Each of the themes and questions outlined above has direct benefits to society, including improving hazard assessment, direct monitoring of active systems for early warning, renewable and non-renewable resource and energy exploitation, and predicting the environmental impacts of natural hazards, emphasizing the central role that scientific drilling will play in future scientific and societal developments.