JAN 25, 2019 5:22 AM PST

Drilling record broken in West Antarctica at 2 km deep

A record has been broken – quite literally – in the West Antarctic ice sheet: scientists drilled down over two kilometers deep. But they weren’t drilling for oil or gas – they were searching for climate history.

The scientists are led by Dr. Andy Smith from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and are part of a long-term project named BEAMISH (Bed Access, Monitoring and Ice Sheet History). This wasn’t the first attempt to drill so deep in the ice sheet – the project tried and failed fifteen years ago in 2004.

But the scientists’ resolve this time around was strong. For the last 12 weeks the team of 11 researchers has been spending their days freezing (or to be more accurate, -30 degrees Celsius below freezing) near the Rutford Ice Stream. On Tuesday, January 8th after a 63-hour nonstop drilling operation, the team reached their goal, pushing through sediment 2152 meters under the surface. Dr. Smith was ecstatic:

"I have waited for this moment for a long time and am delighted that we've finally achieved our goal. There are gaps in our knowledge of what's happening in West Antarctica and by studying the area where the ice sits on soft sediment we can understand better how this region may change in the future and contribute to global sea-level rise."

So how did the scientists do it? Instead of using a conventional corer to bring up ice segments, the team relied on hot water at a very high pressure to make their hole. While this method doesn’t allow for bringing up ice cores, once the hole is established, sediments can be retrieved from great depths.

That was the goal behind this hole, say the researchers. Retrieving sediments from the bottom of Rutford will help the BAS team understand how the stream is moving and how fast the ice is moving at its base. This will in turn shed light on how West Antarctica is melting under climate change conditions.

Temperatures are quite chilly for the researchers working on BEAMISH. Photo: Pixabay

But just because the hole breaks the record for the deepest hole drilled in the region using a hot-water drill doesn’t mean the team is stopping there. Already news that they have drilled a second hole has surfaced. The team reports that they hope to drill two holes at two different sites in order to best collect a range of sediments from the stream.

"There's one site where the sediments are much stiffer and harder, and the other where they're much softer. We want to look at the different properties," said Dr. Keith Makinson. The researchers plan to continue their work in the region

The team has now drilled two holes (with the second completed on January 22) and plan to be working on the ice until mid-February.

Sources: BBC News, Newsweek, Science Daily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUN 03, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Why are plate tectonics so awesome?
JUN 03, 2022
Why are plate tectonics so awesome?
We often affiliate plate tectonics with earthquakes, as we are all taught in school that the shifting of plates leads to ...
JUN 20, 2022
Earth & The Environment
How can beer yeast help reduce heavy metal contamination in water?
JUN 20, 2022
How can beer yeast help reduce heavy metal contamination in water?
Beer is a fantastic way to bring people of all backgrounds together, whether for a night on the town or watching sports. ...
JUL 20, 2022
Plants & Animals
Food Prices Out of Control. Pollinators Could Help
JUL 20, 2022
Food Prices Out of Control. Pollinators Could Help
Rising food prices continue to make headlines. Food prices in general have jumped about 10% over the past year. Certain ...
AUG 01, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
New drug could help repair nervous system damage caused by strokes
AUG 01, 2022
New drug could help repair nervous system damage caused by strokes
A recent study published in Cell Reports highlights a new drug that could help to repair nervous system damage caused by ...
AUG 05, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Past extinction events due to temperature changes might not repeat for the future
AUG 05, 2022
Past extinction events due to temperature changes might not repeat for the future
In a recent study published in Biogeosciences, Professor Emeritus Kunio Kaiho of Tohoku University conducted a quantitat ...
AUG 06, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Today in Science History: Most Complete Skeletal Remains of Neandertal Still Tell a Story Today
AUG 06, 2022
Today in Science History: Most Complete Skeletal Remains of Neandertal Still Tell a Story Today
114 years ago, the first and only nearly complete Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) skeleton was found in a cave in Fr ...
Loading Comments...