Virtual Site Survey of Pernambuco Plateau, Brazil in support of IODP 864: Origin, Evolution and Palaeoenvironment of the Equatorial Atlantic Gateway

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


We propose to exploit a new collaboration between academic and industrial partners to complete a Virtual Site Survey of the Pernambuco Plateau, NE Brazilian Atlantic Margin, in support of Full Proposal 864 to the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) entitled "Origin, Evolution and Palaeoenvironment of the Equatorial Atlantic Gateway".

The Cretaceous rift basins of the tropical South Atlantic were globally significant sites of organic carbon production, biotransformation and burial. These conditions changed irreversibly with the opening of the Equatorial Atlantic Gateway, a fundamental reconfiguration of the world's oceans. Large uncertainties remain in the timing, process and impacts of this gateway opening. IODP Pre-Proposal 864 outlined a drilling programme on the Brazilian Margin to address these pressing issues. In July 2014 the IODP Science Evaluation Panel (SEP) recommended development of Pre-Proposal 864 into a Full Proposal. However, the SEP stated that legacy seismic data images included in the Pre Proposal do not adequately image the target drilling locations. IODP require clearer seismic images of target strata and geological architectures in the Full Proposal.

The primary objective of this proposal is to assemble the complete site survey package necessary for acceptance and implementation of Full Proposal 864 without need for an expensive and time-consuming ship-based expedition. Project Partner ION Geophysical will make available a regional seismic survey known as BrasilSpan(TM) for our Virtual Site Survey. The quality and size of this industrial dataset eclipses anything that could be achieved by an academic ship-borne survey. We will combine this imagery with reprocessed older geophysical data and local geological knowledge provided by our Project Partner at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Brazil.

The detailed, extensive and deep imaging of the Brazilian Atlantic Margin provided by the BrasilSpan survey provide unique opportunities to build a detailed geological model of the Pernambuco Plateau drill target, as well as to assess drilling safety concerns and risk to science objectives. These objectives will generate stand-alone and publishable scientific results, as well as providing a firm foundation for the science goals of the proposed drilling expedition. This work will also benefit the hydrocarbon industry by enhancing geological knowledge in a frontier part of the Brazilian Atlantic Margin.

The central science goal of the related IODP drilling proposal is to provide a step change in understanding the tectonics, timing and environmental consequences of progressive opening of the Equatorial Atlantic Gateway. These are divided into four key sub-themes: (i) to provide new constraints on the timing and tectonics of the Cretaceous Equatorial Atlantic Gateway (EAG) opening and its consequences for global biogeochemical cycles, black shale formation, and the evolution of marine biota; (ii) to constrain deep biosphere communities in petroleum systems by drilling immature Cretaceous (source) and Tertiary (reservoir) successions as well as fluid migration routes from deeper buried units; (iii) to generate multi-proxy records of tropical marine and terrestrial environments under conditions of extreme warmth; and (iv) to test the resilience of tropical ecosystems to major environmental perturbations during greenhouse climate states, effectively testing the "limits of life" under conditions of extreme warmth.

This Virtual Site Survey will impact industry, higher education and international relations. UK government, industry and HE sector are working to establish closer collaborative relationships with Brazilian institutions as Brazil grows in international stature. The University of Birmingham is a major player in UK-Brazil relations. Our leadership of IODP Proposal 864 to drill offshore Brazil supported by this VSS will expand this UK-Brazil collaboration in future.

Planned Impact

The world's largest oilfield discoveries of the past two decades have been on the Brazilian Atlantic Margin, and have contributed to Brazil's growing influence on the global economy. A clearly stated objective of the UK government Science and Innovation Network is to influence the science and innovation policy of Brazilian government, industrial and HE sectors to benefit the UK. Multi-party research collaborations between UK and Brazilian academia and industry are central in establishing such influence. The University of Birmingham (UoB) has been pioneering: its programme for strategic support of research collaborations with Brazilian HE institutions won the Outstanding International Strategy Award in the 2014 Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards. We have directly benefited from this proven expertise of the UoB International Office and Business Engagement Division, who first facilitated the collaboration between UoB and UFPE, and will continue to use this to ensure maximal societal and industrial impact from this project.

This proposal will directly impact the HYDROCARBON INDUSTRY. Our VSS targets an exploration frontier within the Brazilian Atlantic Margin. New seismic interpretations from this VSS and the proposed IODP drilling operations will be undertaken alongside and in direct collaboration with a number of industry partners, mostly through UK-based companies or through the UK offices of major global enterprises. In the first instance, new detailed seismic interpretations undertaken in this project will be fed back to Project Partner ION Geophysical to inform their use of the BrasilSpan dataset with commercial clients. Secondly, the funding framework within Brazil makes industry-IODP co-funding of scientific ocean drilling on the Brazilian margin a realistic possibility. We established academic-industrial collaborations at the earliest stages of Pre-Proposal 864 and continue to actively develop these. A BG Brasil representative is a proponent on Pre-864, whilst a MagellanPlus workshop "Drilling the Cretaceous and Paleogene South Atlantic", funded by ECORD and co-convened by Co-I Dunkley Jones, is scheduled for 2-4 February 2015. One of the express aims of this workshop is to develop academic-industry collaborations in the preparation of full proposals from IODP Pre-840 and Pre-864.

HIGHER EDUCATION partnerships are making major contributions to UK-Brazil collaboration, stimulated by schemes such as the Science without Borders Program, a nationwide scholarship program primarily funded by Brazilian federal government. UoB has taken a lead in developing mutually beneficial partnerships with leading Brazilian institutions to enhance researcher mobility, doctoral training and educational collaboration. In their first 2 years these schemes enrolled >100 Brazilian undergraduate students and >25 PhD students and welcomed >25 visiting fellows. The UoB Geosystems Research Group is a major player and currently hosts 4 Brazilian PhD students as well as receiving 2 visiting researchers this year, one of which is Project Partner Haydon Mort. Our leadership of IODP Proposal 864 to drill the NE Brazil continental margin, supported by this VSS, will expand and strengthen these collaborations.

Finally, we seek to use excitement generated by Scientific Ocean Drilling to ENGAGE THE PUBLIC in the fundamental questions addressed by Pre 864. Of particular relevance to 21st century society are the long-term relationship between greenhouse gas forcing and temperature under conditions of high atmospheric CO2; the magnitude of tropical warming during long-term warm climate states and across transient hyperthermals; and resilience of tropical ecosystems under conditions of extreme warmth. We will achieve this by working to deliver a high quality temporary exhibition within the newly refurbished (2015) Lapworth Museum of Geology.
Description We undertook geological mapping of the continental shelf offshore equatorial Brazil, in order to select and define sites of possible future drilling to obtain rock cores that will answer important questions about Earth's past ocean circulation and climate. This drill site selection process is an essential step in the process of applying to the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) for funding and equipment to carry out the drilling. Our work directly supported navigation of our drilling proposal through IODP's multi-stage scientific and technical review system, beginning in October 2016 and ending in February 2018 with the decision to go ahead with drilling in 2020. In more detail, the milestones were: (1) submission of a full drilling proposal 864 to IODP in October 2016; (2) invited submission of revised full drilling proposal 864 to IODP in spring 2017; (3) external scientific community review of the drilling proposal in autumn 2017; (4) presentation of selected drill sites to IODP's Environmental Protection and Safety Panel in February and September 2018; (5) final acceptance of proposal as Expedition 388, scheduled for summer 2020 (postponed and awaiting re-scheduling as of Feb 2021).
Exploitation Route (1) Submission of addendum to proposed drill sites in March 2018. (2) Submission of detailed revised drilling plan in summer 2018. (3) During summer 2018, IODP will fix the time when drilling will take place (likely 2020). (4) Presentation and discussion of revised drill sites at Environmental Protection and Safety Panel in September 2018. (5) Selecting participants in the expedition during 2019. (6) Drilling expedition scheduled for summer 2020; postponed 2020; awaiting re-scheduling as of Feb 2021. (7) Initial and more detailed results of drilling published by the expedition science team and co-workers 2021 to 2023. (8) Drill core available to global scientific community in perpetuity for further study.
Sectors Education,Energy,Environment,Other

Description Development of a consortium of industrial partners to back our application for International Ocean Discovery Program funding. Industrial partner workshop, Rio de Janeiro, spring 2017. Ongoing communication with this consortium.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 388 "Equatorial Atlantic Gateway"
Amount $2,500,000 (USD)
Funding ID Expedition 388 
Organisation International Ocean Discovery Programme (IODP) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States
Start 01/2020 
End 12/2021
Title Site Survey for International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Fuill Proposal 864 
Description 1. Geological interpretation of Pernambuco Plateau, offshore Brazil, to allow IODP 864 project team to select drill sites. 2. Site survey package of geophysical data to define proposed drill sites, required by IODP for submission of a full drilling proposal. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact First full proposal submission of IODP 864 in October 2016. The site survey package supplied a requirement of the IODP submission process. 
Description Energy Industry Consortium in support of Scientific Drilling of Pernambuco Plateau, offshore Equatorial Brazil 
Organisation Petrobras Brazil
Country Brazil 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Relevant results of drilling will be fed directly to the partnership immediately upon drilling in 2020.
Collaborator Contribution Geological, geophysical and geochemical information on the rock succession within the planned drilling area.
Impact Final reviewed and accepted version of IODP Proposal 864: The Origin, Evolution and Paleoenvironment of the Equatorial Atlantic Gateway.
Start Year 2017
Description Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) Brazil 
Organisation Federal University of Pernambuco
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Lead project. Provide high-quality, industry-leading seismic reflection data. Base for project post-doctoral researcher. Lead linked International Ocean Drilling Programme (IODP) proposal.
Collaborator Contribution Provide seismic data and other datasets required to complete this project. Provide local knowledge and connections (nearest university to this survey site and the proposed IODP drill site).
Impact No outcomes yet: project not complete.
Start Year 2013
Description ION Geophysical 
Organisation ION Geophysical
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Lead project. Provide project post-doctoral researcher to work on ION's data. Add value to ION's data by generating new stratigraphic and structural interpretation of survey area in collaboration with scientists local to the drill site at partner UFPE Brazil. Potentially add value to ION's data by provide link to International Ocean Drilling Programme proposal to drill in an area covered by ION's data.
Collaborator Contribution Provide industry-leading, high-quality seismic reflection data without which this project could not be completed.
Impact Project underway: no impact yet.
Start Year 2015
Description "Mysteries of the Deep" Temporary Exhibition at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, 11 Match to 17 June 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact "Mysteries of the Deep" Temporary Exhibition at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, 11 Match to 17 June 2019, free admittance.
"The oceans have an unseen influence on all our lives. But how do we know this? How do we know how the oceans behave? And how can we better understand and protect these wonderful environments? Over past fifty years there has been an astonishing, long-lasting and deep international scientific collaboration, that has revealed many secrets of the oceans. This program spanned the divisions of the cold-war, and now involves 23 countries in an effort to explore the oceans from the Arctic to Antarctic. Through this program, thousands of scientists, technical staff, drillers and crew have gathered critical data and samples to tell the story of our blue planet. Understanding the oceans, their role in the Earth's climate, their diversity of life and the risks they can pose is more important than ever. This is the story of scientific ocean drilling. This is the story we're telling."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019