Last year (1998) marked the 30th anniversary of the first Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) cruise and the collection of the first cores. The handful of scientists who conceived and initiated this gigantic enterprise in the early 1960s probably did not expect this international project to spur as many controversies and theories on the history of the Earth as it indeed did. At that time, Plate Tectonics, the fundamental theory that unifies most if not all of our geological (and not only geological) knowledge, was still just a controversial hypothesis accepted by only a few scientists. JOIDES (Joint Oceanographic Institute for Deep Earth Science), the program that initiated the DSDP and later the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), deserves a lot of the credit for the collection and study of the evidence that today practically makes plate tectonics a widely accepted ‘truth’.

As a side effect of the wealth of knowledge acquired in these 30 years, scientists have produced an enormous amount of data, so large that I am not aware of any recent estimate after the one done for the first ten years of research (Revelle 1981). Up to recently, all results were first published in reports (also known as ‘blue books’). This procedure made most of the raw data available from a centralized and easily accessible printed source. In addition, JOIDES published a CD-ROM containing much of the data produced from the some 1000 holes during the progress of DSDP in electronic format. However, this multitude of data makes sense only to a limited number of scientists that have been involved in their production, and nobody has a concrete overview of what is available. Moreover, the competitiveness of the recent research climate does not encourage the re-evaluation of older data, but leads instead to the production of more new data.

With this background, a group of biostratigraphers at the ETH Zürich initiated the Neptune project in 1990. The group included some veterans from DSDP (Jean-Pierre Beckmann, Katharina von Salis Perch-Nielsen, Hans Thierstein), one participant of the more recent ODP cruises (Dave Lazarus), and some newcomers (Milena Biolzi, Jörg Bollmann, Heinz Hilbrecht, and myself). The project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project was, in its initial stages, conceived and led by Dave Lazarus (Lazarus 1994; Lazarus et al. 1995a), while in the later, scientific analysis phase, the effort was carried out by this author (Spencer-Cervato et al. 1993, 1994; Spencer-Cervato and Thierstein 1997; Spencer-Cervato 1998).

The scope of the Neptune project was to evaluate and organize the existing DSDP and ODP data into a relational database that would be accessible to the research community. First, we planned to ‘rescue’ and compile the micropaleontological information. This information could be used first to establish an updated chronology for selected sites. The micropaleontological data themselves were then to be used for various studies of evolution. The established chronology would also be used to obtain age control on sedimentological and geochemical data.

This database would be substantially different from a mere compilation of existing data, as was assembled in the DSDP CD-ROM. The main difference would be in the ‘quality control’ of the data to be included. Suitable sites would be selected, based on criteria dictated by our experience in biostratigraphy and deep-sea drilling. We decided to limit the number of sites in the database to give preference to an accurate selection and analysis of the data available for each site. We initially planned to include some 100 holes, but this number has been substantially increased in a later phase of the project. The second innovative approach was represented by the search options. The data in the DSDP CD-ROM are not searchable, but are available as a series of gigantic tables with listings of data. As potential end users, we recognized the necessity to create links between the different data sets (e.g., by hole, by age, by geographic location, by fossil group) to optimize the research applications of the database.

In the next chapters, I will provide a description of what is in the Neptune database and how it got there. I will also discuss what we would have liked to do, and why we did not get to it. Some of the published (and in progress) applications of Neptune will be discussed in a separate chapter. I will conclude with some suggestions on possible additions and how Neptune can be used as a tool available to the research community.

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