How low can a drill in the ocean go? Up until yesterday the answer to that question was 6,923 feet, but the Japanese drilling vessel, the Chikyu, went a bit further, setting a new record of 6,926 feet (2,111 meters) below the ocean floor.

On an expedition sponsored by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the vessel will continue drilling off Japan’s Shimokita Peninsula for three more weeks hoping to go as far as 7,220 feet below the seafloor. It set off in July.

But unlike the kind of drilling most of us are familiar with, the Chikyu and her passengers are not looking for oil or other natural resources ripe for exploitation.  The Agency explains that the purpose of the project is to understand carbon cycling, methane and natural gas below the sea floor.  These issues are “not only directly linked to issues of Japan’s energy resources but [are] also an important scientific area for understanding past global warming events, ecosystem changes, and for building a future sustainable low-carbon society.” Named the Deep Coalbed Biosphere expedition, Expedition 337, the work is being conducted within the framework of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international marine research program.

The excitement behind the discoveries was clear in statements made by scientist, Fumio Inagaki. “This scientific vessel has tremendous potentials to explore very deep realms that humans have never studied before. The deep samples are precious, and I am confident that our challenges will extend our systematic understanding of the nature of life and earth.”

Co-Chief scientist Kai-Uwe Hinrichs from the University of Bremen, Germany echoed those sentiments.  “I am very glad that I am here today and could witness this wonderful and important moment. Everybody on the ship worked really hard to make this happen. And, I am very pleased about the high quality of the core samples, which show only minimal drilling disturbance. This is very important for our research.”

I have to imagine that Inagaki and his colleagues have not seen James Cameron’s The Abyss – if they had they might have thought twice about whether to venture so deep into the unknown, especially without Ed Harris to protect them.

Featured Image via Shutterstock