Image of the Day
STEMfest at Northern Illinois University
A very enthusiastic WISSARD NIU Crew kicks off the beginning of the 2014-2015 season with Dr. Richard Alley, fellow polar scientist, and author of "Earth: An Operator's Manual." at STEMfest on the NIU campus. This free community event, in its 5th year, reached more than 7,500 people. The WISSARD group created glaciers with glacier goo, played the game Polar Opposites with the crowd, and answered a lot of questions about Antartica and the WISSARD project. More images to follow.
November 11th, 2014
The WISSARD Team is gearing up for its final season in Antarctica! We have an advance geophysical team of four deploying in Mid-November which will recover 18 GPS and service 4 GPS, 18 seismometers, and 5 borehole instruments, which will be left for another 2 years. The "advance team" is generally going out to remove the existing infrastructure left on the ice stream for the past 7 years. The Drillers from UNL are currently in Mcmurdo Station preparing drilling operations for the 2014-2015 drilling season; WISSARD drilling operations commence in early January.
This season our target is the grounding zone, where the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet atop land meets the Ross Sea. This area is considered an important piece of the puzzle for our scientists interested in ice sheet dynamics. The work will help scientists assess the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, most of which sits below sea level. It is the last ice sheet on Earth resting in a deep marine basin and is the most likely player in any future, rapid sea-level rise. If the grounding zone is retreating or primed to retreat, rapid changes in ice behavior could follow over the next century. Work focused on microbial life, biogeochemical cycling, and surrounding geophysical surveys will also continue during the 2014-2015 season.
Most of the science team will deploy from mid to late December, with plans to be in the field by the second week of January. Our intentions are to have 8 days of science in the primary borehole at the Grounding Zone location mid-January. We will deploy all of the WISSARD tools during this period and recover sediment and water samples from the water cavity some 750 meters below the surface of the ice. We also hope to recover about 5 meters of basal ice cores at another borehole very near the primary hole. If all goes well, the WISSARD team will redeploy in early February to their institutions with samples in hand! Stay tuned for updates! Image: Rachel Xidis/NIU.
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.
Continued geophysical surveying is the focus of the 2013-2014 season. Two sites on the Whillans Ice Stream will be investigated. At each site a mobile, hot water drill will be used to create 15 cm holes, 750 meters in depth where borehole sesimic, tilt, and heat sensors will be deployed and left to collect long-term data. Surface seismic sensors will also be installed, to add to the network of GPS and active seismic stations monitored on the surface of the ice stream to help characterize the movement of ice and the conditions of the ice at the base of the ice stream.