British Geological Survey remotely operated sea bed rockdrills and vibrocorers: new advances to meet the needs of the scientific community.

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:31 AM
Alan Stevenson, Michael Wilson, Iain Pheasant and Heather Ann Stewart, British Geological Survey - BGS, Marine Geology and Operations, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
The British Geological Survey (BGS) have developed a number of coring and drilling systems for use in science projects in the UK and internationally. These include 3m and 6m vibrocoring systems; a 5m combined rockdrill and vibrocorer system; an oriented drill designed specifically to recover samples for use in palaeomagnetic studies; and a 55m rockdrill (RockDrill2).

Recently, BGS have developed an autonomous, battery-operated vibrocoring system compatible with both the 3m and 6m vibrocorers, which can be used in water depths up to 6000m. Use of a battery system negates the use of an umbilical power cable to operate the vibrocorer, which instead can be deployed using the vessels A-frame and winch. The autonomous battery system comprises six 48V 19Ah batteries connected in series to give a 288V power source, a microprocessor and real-time clock. Data from the sensors are recorded with a time-stamp, giving diagnostic information that can be downloaded once the system is returned to the deck. The vibrocorer is operated via a pre-set program which is set up before deployment.

The new system not only allows vibrocoring in greater water depths, but can also be used on smaller vessels where deck space is limited as a separate winch and umbilical is not required. The autonomous system was used for the first time in June 2014 on-board the R\V Belgica to acquire samples from 20 sites in the Dangeard and Explorer canyon heads, off the southwest of England in 430m water depth.

Another development is the BGS 55m rockdrill (RockDrill2),  a remotely operated sampling system capable of coring up to 55m below sea floor in water depths up to  4000m. The rockdrill can be operated via its own launch and recovery system and can be outfitted with additional sensors such as gas flow meters, which have been designed by the BGS for assessing volume of gas hydrate, and down-hole logging tools.

The 55m rockdrill has recently been used to sample hydrate-entrained sediments in the Sea of Japan.  The maximum coring depth achieved was 32m below sea floor and the system can operate for more than 50 hours on a single deployment. The BGS system will be used in conjunction with the Bremen University (MARUM) MeBo sea-floor rockdrill on future International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expeditions.