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.


LA Italian eatery Madeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

Updated 15 December 2019

LA Italian eatery Madeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

  • Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one

RIYADH: Renowned Italian restaurant Madeo has opened up in Al-Murabba for Riyadh Season. 

The pop-up has started brightly, and head chef Gianni Vietina invited Arab News to sample the menu and chat about his experience.

Vietina, in Saudi Arabia for the first time, said that he loved the location he had set up in, and was very happy to be opening up in the Kingdom. 

“The location is gorgeous. At night, with all the lights on, the music going, it’s very nice.”

Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one and that the response was even better than he had expected. 

“Like anything new, you have quests, you have problems. Up to now, we’re doing pretty good. We are up and running. We’re comfortable now, which is a shame as we’re leaving pretty soon,” he said.

He added that he would repeat the experience in a heartbeat if he could: “They were nice enough to ask me to stay in Saudi a little longer, but I can’t. I need to go back home. But I would love to come back.”

He said that while he was not planning to open up a permanent restaurant in Saudi Arabia, he would not rule it out completely.  “I’ve been offered options, and friends have offered to show me locations while I’m here, but I can’t do it right now, I just opened a new restaurant two months ago,” he said.

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like.”

Gianni Vietina, Head chef of Madeo

The pop-up’s menu contains most of what the original restaurant offers, including his ever-popular penne amadeo and spaghetti bolognese, with the chefs using a combination of imported and locally sourced ingredients. 

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like,” he told Arab News.

For the pop-up, Vietina has stuck to using halal and alcohol-free ingredients. 

“It was challenging at the beginning. But the bolognese at Amadeo doesn’t contain pork, and I realized after we tried cooking without wine that almost nothing changed. I actually prefer it,” he said.

Madeo is a favorite of Saudis visiting Los Angeles, with Vietina going so far as to describe the restaurant as a “Little Riyadh” on most evenings between July and September. 

He even recognizes some of the customers who have come into the Riyadh pop-up, and always stops over to greet them.

Upon sampling the menu, it’s easy to see why the food at Madeo has remained popular all these years. 

The eggplant parmigiana is a perfect blend of crusty cheese and silky smooth eggplant, with hints of basil and rosemary. 

The bolognese is rich, meaty and decadent, without being too heavy and greasy. And the penne Amadeo, which Vietina has been eating since his childhood, is a timeless classic of crushed tomato, basil, finished off with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano for a creamy, rich flavor.