The JOIDES Resolution at the cruise ship terminal on the embarcadeo in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Jennewein

One of the most unusual and capable scientific research ships every built is docked at the cruise ship terminal this week, preparing for a voyage to the Gulf of California.

The 471-foot JOIDES Resolution towers over the piers and other ships on the embarcadero because of its sediment-drilling derrick extending 202 feet above the ocean.

The ship will pull out on Saturday for a two-month expedition to the Guaymas Basin, a mile-deep depression in the Gulf of California off the Mexican city of the same name.

Dick Norris, a professor paleobiology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the goal of expedition is to search for “life that is hotter, deeper, under more extreme conditions than anything we know today.”

Norris, who has served on six previous expeditions, said 30 scientists from around the world will embark on the latest, working 24 hours a day in 12-hour shifts drilling almost 2,000 yards deep into the ocean floor in search of unique microbial life.

Norris said microbes living at that depth use all kinds of exotic chemical processes to survive, and learning how they live can benefit medicine and industry.

“By studying the deep biosphere, we have this opportunity to assay these potential resources for humanity,” he said.

Assisted by a team of 30 technicians, and the ship’s crew of almost 60, the scientists will man a virtual assembly line to examine and characterize the increasingly deep cores of rocks and mud brought up as rapidly as every 20 minutes.

The ship, whose name is short for Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling, doesn’t have a homeport. It is constantly in use on expeditions throughout the world.

This is its first visit to San Diego in a decade, but it’s scheduled to return Nov. 14 at the completion of the Guaymas expedition.

Dick Norris holds an enlarged 3-D model of a deep-ocean microbe inside the paleobiology lab on the JOIDES Resolution. Photo by Chris Jennewein
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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.