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Planning Begins in Earnest for the 2013-2014 Season
Logistics for the upcoming WISSARD season are being discussed this week, when an all PI meeting convenes at the Antarctic Support Contract offices in Denver, Colorado on April 10th, 2013. Detailed field planning will take place. In the meanwhile, water and sediment samples continue to arrive and are being processed at institutions across the country. The WISSARD Education and Outreach team are working on creating WISSARD scientists of the future, and are presenting some WISSARD science at NSTA, the National Science Teachers Association National Conference, Friday, April 12th, in San Antonio Texas.
February 1st, 2013
A decade of international and national planning, and three and a half years of project preparation came down to an intense period of drilling and science at Subglacial Lake Whillans. We were able to address almost all of our science goals for the season. The data and samples collected have provided us with a glimpse of the Antarctic subglacial world. We have no doubts that our results will transform the way we view Antarctica and pave the way for future national and international subglacial research efforts. The extraordinary success of our first WISSARD field season would not have been possible without the expertise and dedication of the WISSARD traverse team who hauled our fuel, drill, labs and camp facilities more than 700 miles to the SLW camp site, the SPOT 2 traverse for preparing the skiway and winter storage berms, an incredible group of drillers who worked around the clock to ensure that we had a conduit to the lake and hot water for showers, our two incredibly helpful marine techs who significantly aided science outcomes by directing and assisting all scientific deck and winch operations, and ASC camp staff for providing us with positive vibes, airlift coordination and excellent food during our hectic round-the-clock schedule. We have greatly benefitted from the experience of our foreign research collaborators who participated on the science team. The undergraduate and graduate students learned what it was like to do cutting-edge interdisciplinary science and worked feverishly to process the samples as they came out of the borehole. Finally, WISSARD outreach personnel used our drilling and research efforts to touch the lives (both young and old) of people throughout the world and inspire the next generation of polar scientists.
WISSARD Project Overview
Subglacial Aquatic Environments
Over the last several decades, by using ground penetrating radar and other remote sensing tools, scientists have discovered that under the massive Antarctic ice sheets there lies a vast hydrological system of liquid water. This water exists because geothermal heat flow from below, coupled with pressure, movement, and the insulating nature of the ice sheet above, is great enough to maintain some areas at the base of the ice sheet above the freezing point, even in the extreme cold of Antarctica. In topographic depressions there are hundreds of lakes, both large and small; some are isolated, but many are interconnected by water channels and large areas of saturated sediments, the water eventually running out into the Southern Ocean as the ice sheet becomes a floating ice shelf.
In order to explore one of these hydrological systems at the margin of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we have organized an interdisciplinary project to access the subglacial environment. The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) is using a variety of tools and techniques to explore Subglacial Lake Whillans and the nearby grounding zone, on the southeastern edge of the Ross Sea. Radar and seismic equipment is used to profile the overlying ice sheet and the underlying water, sediments, and rock, while GPS stations accurately track ice movement. A purpose-built Hot Water Drill is designed to melt a 30 centimeter hole through 800 meters of ice, providing clean access to Subglacial Lake Whillans and the base of the ice sheet. A variety of sophisticated tools will be sent down the borehole to collect data and samples, supported by equipment and laboratories on the surface. Everything is designed with clean access in mind, so as not to contaminate this previously unexplored environment, and to maintain the pristine nature of this part of Antarctica.