Saudi Arabia and Japan drill deep in bid to predict earthquakes

The Chikyu expedition is run under the auspices of the Yokohama-based Japanese Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology. (Courtesy of Chikyu expedition)
Updated 24 November 2019

Saudi Arabia and Japan drill deep in bid to predict earthquakes

  • The operation has already set a new world record for underwater drilling
  • If successful, it is hoped the operation will not only help save lives, but millions of dollars

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s expertise in deep oil-well drilling is being used in an International bid to predict life-threatening earthquakes in the tumultuous seas off the coast of Japan.

Scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology are working with Japanese and American colleagues in a long-term project to drill down into sub-sea sections of the earth’s crust in the Nankai Trough, a notorious seismic zone off the country’s southern coast, which has been the site of fatal tsunami-generating earthquakes throughout Japan’s history.

The project - involving a multi-national team aboard the hi-tech research vessel the Chikyu - has already set a new world record for underwater drilling, having reached 3,262.5 meters below the seabed, which is itself 2,000 meters below sea-level, using expertise tried and tested by Saudi Aramco in the Kingdom’s oil industry.

Thomas Finkbeiner, a petroleum geomechanics expert turned KAUST senior research scientist, and a member of the Chikyu expedition, told Arab News: “The ultimate aim is to help save lives and prevent damage to the infrastructure of Japan, as we tragically witnessed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The economic cost was huge, but the real cost was in human lives.”

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami - which occurred further north off the Japanese Pacific coast - led to as many as 20,000 deaths, though many victims are still classified as “missing”, and $235bn of economic damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in history.

The Chikyu expedition is run under the auspices of the Yokohama-based Japanese Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology, and aims to drill down into the Nankai Trough where three tectonic plates - the Pacific, Eurasian and the Philippines - meet. It is one of the most seismologically active areas in the world.

“The geology and the environment is very challenging. Nobody has ever tried to drill a well so deep in such a seismogenic region before. These are large-scale subduction zones with lots of tectonic stress, and folding and faulting of the undersea plates,” Finkbeiner said.

The aim is to install monitoring equipment at the heart of the zone in an effort to detect seismic and tsunami events and give early warnings of impending disasters. “If such a well succeeded, the knowledge and insight that would be gained from such an observatory would be invaluable,” he added.

Earlier his year, operations were halted when drilling encountered tough geological conditions as they approached the plate boundary fault. The Japanese and their Saudi partners are hoping for further official funding to resume drilling in the near future.

The 11-year Chikyu project has been working at the extremes of scientific and technological experience.

The official website says: “These operations are extremely difficult tasks never before achieved due to the fragile geological formations and factors including the powerful Kuroshio current, a location subject to typhoon approaches and also affected by multiple cold fronts during the winter.

The operations are challenging even for Saudi Arabia’s technological expertise in drilling for oil. Most wells in the Kingdom typically strike oil at around the 2,000 meters level, though some are significantly deeper.


Saudi Health Minister: No coronavirus cases in the Kingdom

Updated 26 January 2020

Saudi Health Minister: No coronavirus cases in the Kingdom

  • The Kingdom took measures to limit the spread of the virus

DUBAI: The Saudi Minister of Health, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah confirmed that several precautionary measures had been implemented to address the new coronavirus.

The ministry has increased monitoring and control procedures for flights coming directly from China.

Passengers coming from China through indirect flights are being contained and having their vitals inspected in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority.

“No cases of infection with the new coronavirus have been recorded in the Kingdom yet,” he added, explaining that coronavirus was an airborne virus transmitted by coughing.

The National Center for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDC) has prepared a health guide to deal with suspected cases. The NCDC provided laboratory tests, set up the mechanism for collecting and transferring sample to NCDC’s national laboratory and issued advice to passengers going to areas where the disease has appeared.

The ministry’s Command and Control Center took precautionary measures as soon as the virus was discovered in China, the minister said.

The ministry has also implemented the international health regulations and coordinated with the relevant authorities to deal with this situation and address it.

The precautionary measures included closely monitoring the epidemiological situation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other available sources and coordinating with the Civil Aviation Authority in assessing the direct and indirect traffic from and to China in order to provide information for people planning to visit affected areas, monitor those arriving from them, implement the health assessment at entry points and follow up on them to ensure their safety,” Al-Rabiah pointed out.

The Command and Control center had previously explained that the common symptoms of infection are acute respiratory ones such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. In more severe cases, it can cause pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome.