Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Deep-Sea Drilling

Deep EarthAcademy

Activity Source:

Adapted with permission by Deep Earth Academy.

The JOIDES Resolution (JR) has physical dimensions unlike most oceangoing vessels. Why? So that scientists can sail nearly anywhere in the world to drill for samples of rocks and sediment from below the seafloor — in hopes of discovering clues about Earth’s history and structure, life in the deep biosphere, past climate change, earthquakes, and natural resources.

Note for teachers: The JR has a flat bottom, a 6.4-meter hole in the middle, 12 laboratories, and a derrick towering 67 meters (about 13 stories) above the waterline. The vessel is 143 meters long and can drill 8,382 meters below sea level. To understand these numbers, it might be helpful to construct a model of the ship - right in your schoolyard.

Before class, measure several lengths of string that are 143 meters long, 24 meters long, and 16 meters long (this may require tying some pieces of string together), and then ball up these lengths of string. Also, you may wish to emailing Deep Earth Academy at to request “The Ocean Drilling Program in Film” for your students to view later.

This activity enables students to estimate and calculate scales of distance and length as used by ocean drilling scientists. Correlated standards include National Science Education Standard E in Earth and Space Science and the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics Standard that students understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships.


  • Computer with Internet connection
  • Measuring tapes
  • String
  • Markers
  • Paper


1. View photos of the JR ( and discuss what this ship does. It is the only U.S. vessel that drills the ocean floor just for science. If possible, watch “The Ocean Drilling Program in Film".

2. Guess how big the ship is, judging from the photos. Record your answers. Compare estimates with the actual measurements (above). You will use estimation to determine just how “big” each measurement is.

3. Go outside to the schoolyard. In groups, devise strategies to estimate the distance from one end of the boat to the other end without measuring tapes. Use sticks or rocks to mark your estimates n the schoolyard. Place a label with the group’s names on each estimated length.

4. Inspect the balled-up lengths of string prepared by your teacher, and find the longest one. Lay it straight in the yard alongside the estimates you marked. This string represents the real length of the ship. How does it compare to your estimates?

5. Now you’re going to create a one-quarter scale model of the ship’s length on the schoolyard. How long would that be? The group with the most accurate estimate should model its estimation skills by showing the rest of the class how far that measurement would reach.

6. Place the lengths of string that are 24 meters long and 16 meters long on the schoolyard. Measure these lengths using measuring tapes. Calculate what ratio these lengths represent for the ship.

7. Using a 1/9th scale, calculate and indicate 5,980 meters to show how deep the water can be from the bottom of the ship to the ocean floor, and 8,382 meters to show the greatest length of the drill string. Calculate how deep into the seafloor the drill must be able to travel using those two measurements.
Extra challenge: Using graph paper, design a scale model of the ship and the drill string while holding the paper vertically, or “portrait style.” Remember, the ship length (143 m), height (67 m), greatest water depth (5,980 m), and greatest depth below the seafloor (2,402 m) should all be in proportion to one another.