August 28th, 2015

WISSARD reviews project work in final meeting

More than 30 WISSARDS met in Bozeman, Montana to share research results and work toward future collaborations with WISSARD data during the final WISSARD meeting held August 2nd-August 5th, 2015 at Montana State University. WISSARD's are planning a joint session at the annual American Geophysical Union meetings to discuss WISSARD findings. A number of WISSARD focused papers are in the works or cued for publication, including the recently published paper in the journal Science Advances led by Dr. Andy Fisher at USCS regarding high geothermal heat flux. Work will continue to integrate scientific results of the WISSARD Project and prepare additional scientific publications. Three short videos that provided an overview of some aspects of the WISSARD project and life on the ice were previewed and will be posted to the WISSARD webpage when finalized.


January 21st, 2015

WISSARD Scientists Announce Initial 2015 Findings from the Grounding Zone in National Science Foundation Press Release

Using a specially designed hot-water drill to cleanly bore through a half mile of ice, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team of researchers has become the first ever to reach and sample the "grounding zone", where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. Data gathered from samples of sediment taken in the grounding zone will provide clues about the mechanics of ice sheets and their potential effects on sea-level rise.

Cameras sent down the drilling hole also revealed an unsuspected population of fish and invertebrates living beneath the ice sheet, the farthest south that fish have ever been found. The surprising discovery of fish in waters that are extremely cold (-2 Celsius, 28 degrees Fahrenheit) and perpetually dark poses new questions about the ability of life to thrive in extreme environments.

"I have been investigating these types of environments for much of my career, and although I knew it would be difficult, I had been wanting to access this system for years because of its scientific importance," said Ross Powell, a chief scientist with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project and a researcher at Northern Illinois University. "Findings such as these -- gaining an understanding of the ice sheet dynamics and its interaction with ocean and sediment, as well as establishing the structure of its ecosystem -- are especially rewarding. It's a big pay-off in delayed gratification."

The newest discoveries stem from the WISSARD project's investigation of the grounding zone of Whillans Ice Stream of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), roughly 850 kilometers (530 miles) from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica's Ross Sea.

WISSARD is funded by NSF's Division of Polar Programs, which also provided the logistical support needed to succeed in the challenging Antarctic conditions. The Division manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. Scientific research on the continent.

Using a powerful hot-water drill developed and built by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researchers punched through nearly 740 meters (nearly 2,500 feet) of the Ross Ice Shelf on Jan. 8, 2015 (local time. U.S. researchers in Antarctica keep New Zealand time).

On Jan. 16, as more than 40 scientists, technicians and camp staff were working around-the-clock to collect as many samples and data as they could while the borehole remained open, the WISSARD team deployed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called "Deep SCINI"--(Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging)--to explore about 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) of the marine cavity around the borehole.

The ROV was developed at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The ROV discovered a variety of fish and invertebrates including numerous amphipods, or marine crustaceans, components of an ecosystem that may provide new insights into how creatures survive and even thrive in one of the world's most extreme environments.

"Finding fish, or any other type of life, under an ice shelf is by itself not novel," said John Priscu, a WISSARD chief scientist and a professor of land resources and environmental sciences at Montana State University, who has studied life in and under Antarctic ice for more than 30 years.

"However, our WISSARD data will establish for the first time sources of carbon and energy for higher trophic levels in this most southerly marine ecosystem. Our data will also provide important information on the connectivity between subglacial environments and ice-shelf productivity, allowing us to predict first responders to a warming climate," Priscu added.

After the initial Deep SCINI deployment, a package of oceanographic instruments, developed at Northern Illinois University, including a downward-looking camera, recorded data in the cavity over a tidal cycle and also observed many fish swimming by.

For additional information, downloadable images from the 2014-2015 season, or to contact the WISSARD project, look in our media guide, accessible at the top right-hand corner of the WISSARD homepage, above.






January 19th, 2015

Last day of WISSARD science operations in the borehole. The last science instruments were deployed today, and operations end at midnight. There were 3 deployments of the gravity corer with 3 cores resulting. The string of geophysical sensors for long-term observations in the ice and ocean is being monitored as it freezes in. Over 1000 lbs of samples have been prepared to retro back to McMurdo on the next flight on Jan 21. WOW! If conditions allow, 20 of the 40 personnel in the field will return to McMurdo tomorrow afternoon.

January 16th, 2015

Successful science collection on all fronts continues! All of camp is in good spirits and moving through the last science days that focus on longer-term deployments in the boreholes, lab work and packing-up. Our support team continues to work diligently to ensure smooth operations around camp, helping to prepared for samples and some equipment for shipping back to McMurdo.Science groups continue to prepare their retrograde cargo and samples. A visit from videographer Ralph Maestas insures much of the sampling and science was caught on film, and WISSARD is grateful for his involvement! The drill team completed the reaming of a 3rd borehole and a string of geophysical sensors for long-term observations in the ice and ocean cavity was successfully deployed. Excellent work by the drill team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, extended the number of days the scientists could collect data from a planned seven or eight days to more than ten, which has increased the amount of science completed exponentially. More time is always an invaluable resource in Antarctic Science! On the 15th, ice coring continued in a second borehole and the drill reached about 750m depth recovering what looked like the transition between meteoric and accreted ice. To date, the multi-corer was deployed to sample sediment, and it has collected at least 8 good cores. In addition, two good cores, each about 65cm long, were recovered using the gravity corer. Water sampling has been successful and comprehensive, with the deployment of the Niskin sampling system as well as an in-situ filtration system deployed by Louisiana State University. The POP (Physical Oceanographic Package) an additional muti-faceted water sampling tool, was also successfully deployed overnight and through the day through most of a tidal cycle. It was stationed at different levels in the water column and did some profiles through the seawater column. Data collected included measurements of water salinity,temperature, velocity, suspended sediment concentration and particle size, and CO2 and CH4 concentrations. Additionally 5 1-liter, samples of the seawater were collected to calibrate and verify the instrumental measurements. This is a very exciting sampling success! The smart winch was repaired in the field, which also allowed for the deployment of the ROV Deep-SCINI. Deep-SCINI (Submersible Capable of under-Ice Navigation and Imaging) is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which was designed and built at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as part of a related NASA project, and based on previous SCINI models funded by NSF. This ROV provided some spectacular images of the borehole during its descent in the afternoon. They showed the internal ice structure and significant sedimentary debris within. SCINI then provided the first extensive imagery of this type of environment during its roving through the seawater cavity. The imagery also provided important information on ice, marine and sedimentary processes that confirm what we have inferred from our as yet cursory descriptions of the sediment cores.Video from Deep-SCINI is forthcoming and apparently amazing! Today the geothermal probe will be deployed again following a successful deployment previously, and another water collection with the Niskin and sediment sample with the multicorer are planned. The scientists are tired but fired up about the successes in the field. GO WISSARD!


January 14th, 2015

January 14th

Yesterday afternoon the drill team successfully tested the hot-water ice corer and collected a short ice core from about 100m depth. After that testing drillers then proceeded to hot-water drill down to 730m and ream the upper hole a little wider.Next, two more sequential ice cores were successfully recovered starting at 730m depth, and coring continues. An 85cm-long sediment gravity-core was collected late yesterday. The second deployment in piston-coring mode was not as successful, with the core apparently having been lost during recovery after the barrel had penetrated the seafloor. Next the geothermal probe was deployed and fully penetrated 1.8m into the seafloor, with very successful data recovery.

January 13th

Continued progress for WISSARD! The drill team finished reaming with the drill out of the borehole at 8pm last night, as they predicted. Today they are gearing up for testing of the hot-water ice corer. Once reaming was completed the Niskin team took over the main borehole for 2 more water samples from the marine cavity. Next up, was the multicorer that had 2 deployments, continuing through until about 6AM this morning. We successfully recovered 4 cores up to 26cm long that were distributed for microbiological and geological studies. An excellent recovery! Today, the piston corer is being prepared for deployment. First, it will be used in its simple gravity-coring mode to provide a core for microbiological studies. Its second deployment will be as a piston corer to provide a core for geotechnological and geological studies. Some WISSARD personnel had a day trip away from camp to tend more GPS stations.


January 12th, 2015

January 11th

WISSARD science operations continue in the deep field and the science crew had to overcome some technical challenges. The in situ water-filtering unit was successfully deployed, but the new UCSC winch had power issues and the geothermal probe was not deployed. The team is considering options for the second deployment of this tool. The piston corer was deployed twice, but attempts to collect a core were unsuccessful, one time due to the messenger getting stuck on fraying winch cable and the other one because the piston was not lubricated (due to clean access) and got jammed in the core liner. The science timeline will be adjusted to deploy the instrument again. The “Deep SCINI” ROV was prepared for its dive and possible roving in the cavity; as it was a first-time deployment there was a long preparation time. Scini feeds real-time imagery to the surface via a connection to the “smart” winch with its fiber optic cable. Scini reached the air-water interface in the borehole and found a very thin layer of ice on top of the borehole water. The “smart” winch then had issues with its movement under load and so the Scini deployment was postponed. The WISSARD team thinks they have resolved the issues with the “smart” winch and have rearranged the borehole timeline of instruments accordingly.

January 12th 

The WISSARD camp hosted a visit from NSF Program Officers Lisa Clough and Paul Cutler, and the ASC Project Coordinator Julie Raine. It was determined that the main borehole needed to be reamed to keep it open for continued deployment of the science tools, and reaming continued all day until 8 pm. The borehole reaming provided the opportunity for science to catch up on sample processing and preparing equipment and instruments for the next phase of sampling. Progress was made on a fix for the “smart” winch, which is scheduled for a test in the borehole tomorrow midnight. Three WISSSARD personnel traveled away from camp to tend GPS stations. Science tools to be deployed next include the Niskin sampler, followed by the multicorer, water filterer and then the piston corer through the night tonight.


January 9th, 2015

SUCCESS! The LC-130 with the remaining Science crew (the Dirty Dozen) finally made it in to Grounding Zone/ACT camp. Successful breakthrough to the borehole yesterday, and this morning’s report is that the camera has gone down the hole, and captured some great video. Water depth is 10 meters, the hole is big and looks good. The CTD has been deployed, and the first water samples are being taken. A CTD or Sonde is an oceanography instrument used to determine the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean. Eleven tractors convened at the WISSARD camp . Half half are coming from the Leverett Glacier, and half are headed to the South Pole. It is a very large group and it is rather strange to be in a remote location with heavy traffic! Complete science reports can be accessed through the science reports link below. These will be updated as reports from the field are received.


January 7th, 2015

Today's flights were cancelled, and 11 wissard's remain at McMurdo. BUT, drilling has begun and is progressing well! At the moment, WISSARD's are not on the flight manifest for tomorrow, but the flight schedules are in flux. The South Pole traverse is stopping at the WISSARD field camp tomorrow to spend the night and pick up cargo to be returned to McMurdo.We are hopeful that the flight will arrive tomorrow. Everyone in camp is excited to get the boreholes open and for science ops to begin—they are ready to go. If the flight from McMurdo does not arrive tomorrow, WISSARDs in the field camp will begin to modify the borehole plans to take samples and make measurements of the subglacial environment with the tools and personnel at ACT. There are 11 scientists at ACT, they will work together on round-the-clock sampling.A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution has been prepared and placed in sprayers to disinfect all down borehole tools.

The drillers completed the tool-hole and keyhole last night and joined the keyhole with the main borehole, providing return water for main borehole drilling. The drill is now at 330 meters and drilling at an average rate of 15 m per hour. At this will rate we should enter the subglacial cavity at mid-day on 8 January. The biological and geochemical teams have started to collect samples from borehole water (from sampling ports as water enters the filtration system and on water leaving the heaters before being pumped down the borehole). A sample was collected when the drill was at 80 m at 1400h on the 6th, and additional samples will be collected just before breakthrough (between 600 and 700 m). The medium winch was secured to the LARS platform by the marine techs and our electrician wired power to the LARS units to drive all of the winch motors. The UV collar was tested and is now on during drilling ops to disinfect the drilling hose as it descends.

January 6th:Today's flight was boomeranged and returned to McMurdo due to poor visibility. WISSARD's are slated to fly again tomorrow, weather permitting. January 6th was the original fly-in date for this group of scientists, so a flight tomorrow will preserve the schedule as planned. Drilling preparations are continuing, with drilling tentatively set to commence in the next 48 hours. Everyone remains in good spirits; they are excited to start the field science.

January 4th: Weather conditions determine how and when science gets done in Antarctica, so 11 WISSARD's are still waiting in McMurdo for the next available plane. Meanwhile in the field winds have been fierce, with 30 mph gusts. Blowing snow has made visibility less than 30 feet, and working conditions outside are difficult. The drillers are going on 24-hour work days (2-12 hour shifts) today and still plan to start drilling in a few days, although the storm may alter this. The chemistry lab is set up, and WISSARDS will begin putting together the light winches which are used to deploy equipment down the hole once drilling is completed. The WISSARDs still in McMurdo are in the queue for an LC-130 flight from McMurdo to ACT/Grounding Zone, and just waiting for the right combination of priority listing and weather. Everyone is safe and in good spirits. Everyone is safe and in good spirits. More updates to come--stay tuned!


31 December 2014

The WISSARD deep field camp is open for business! A Twin Otter BBV delivered two more science team members and an ASC electrician to the camp yesterday, and today 5 more scientists were able to reach the deep field camp ahead of the holiday. The laboratory milvans have been moved into place and an electrician is on-site working to bring power/heat/water to the units.

29 December 2014: The Drillers are in! WISSARD got two flights into the Grounding Zone (GZ) yesterday, one Twin Otter and one Ski Herc and the Drillers are setting up their equipment. Most of the Science Team are in McMurdo, preparing equipment, testing gear and getting cargo into the system. We are hoping for another Twin Otter Flight on 1 Jan with 2 Wissards, another Herc with 11 Wissards on 4 Jan and a flight on the Basler with 5 more personnel and fragile cargo. Hopefully, the weather cooperates and these missions go as planned!


22 December, 2014

GOOD NEWS! After a week of delays, we were finally successful getting our first LC-130 plane in to the ACT skiway today. This flight took in the camp staff, carpenters, electrician and generator mechanic to get the camp infrastructure set up, and power set up for camp. In addition, we sent in one of our Marine Techs and the technician for the Fassi Crane to get this essential piece of equipment up and out of hibernation as well. We are still hopeful we will be able to stay close to schedule, and are planning the next LC-130 flight to get the UNL Drillers and the C-522 DOER tech in to camp to begin thawing out the hot water drill, and providing camp water, so we can then send the next wave of science in. WISSARD has 6 personnel in Christchurch New Zealand waiting for a Christmas flight to McMurdo.


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.