WISSARD Updates

21 August 2014

An exciting paper by Brent Christner and the WISSARD Team was published in Nature this week. The editor's summary:

"Whether there is microbial life in subglacial lakes in the Antarctic has been a matter of controversy, as early results were compromised when it was discovered that contamination may have occurred during drilling. Discovered less than a decade ago using satellite data, Lake Whillans lies beneath some 800 metres of ice on the lower portion of the Whillans Ice Stream (WIS) in West Antarctica and is part of an extensive and evolving subglacial drainage network. In the first study to sample Antarctic subglacial waters directly, analysis of sediments obtained by the WISSARD drilling program shows that Lake Whillans' water contains more than 3,900 different types of bacteria and archaea, including one closely related to the nitrite oxidizing betaproteobacterium 'Candidatus Nitrotoga arctica', which comprised 13% of the sequence data. The lake waters contain a diverse range of metabolically active microorganisms, many of which seem to gain nutrients from the melting ice and from the rock and sediment beneath the ice."

Nature article on WISSARD by Doug Fox: http://www.nature.com/news/lakes-under-the-ice-antarctica-s-secret-garde...
NSF press release: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132267

 

June 18, 2014

WISSARD has a new member working at the Priscu Lab at Montana State University! Tyler Subatch is part of the WISSARD Outreach Program and is MAP high school student from Plains Montana. The Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP) is a six-week summer immersion for underrepresented minority high school students which provides rising sophomores, juniors and seniors their first taste of college life and hands-on science research experience with MSU faculty mentors. Tyler is mentored by Trista Vick-Majors and will be working on “Temperature sensitivity of bacterial isolates from Subglacial Lake Whillans".

The goal of MAP is to inspire young people to pursue college degrees and increase the number of Native American and other underrepresented high school students entering the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

MAP is fun and action packed - no two days are ever the same! In addition to science field trips, MAP students participate in diverse research projects, which may range from cancer studies and biofilm engineering, to climatology, veterinary research, and many other topics.

Program Benefits Include
*MAP students apprentice in world class research labs and earn $1,620 for the summer.
*Housing and all meals are provided.
*Full-time teachers, residential advisors, and a program coordinator provide round-the-clock supervision and support.
*Weekend field trips include visits to Yellowstone National Park, hiking, cultural events, and exploring the beauty of southwest Montana.
*More than 80% of MAP students graduate from high school and enter college.

 

May 18, 2014

As the WISSARD group awaits confirmation on our latest proposal to continue field work at the WISSARD Grounding Zone location, planning is underway to determine the field schedule, the borehole timeline, and other pertinent details for the 2014-15 season. Logistical support resources for getting our group in and out of the field are expected to be in short supply and thus careful planning is essential. Our Science and Technology Liaison Subcommittee (STLS) will start meeting routinely in June to work out the details.

In other events, Dr. John Priscu is giving a WISSARD related lecture at the University of Washington this week. His lecture abstract is below:
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 3:00 PM
John Priscu (Montana State University)
Astrobiology Seminar
PAA A-114
Microbial Habitability of Icy Worlds

As active exploration of space begins its sixth decade, we have, for the first time in the history of humanity, the tools and techniques to probe the profound questions of planetary habitability: how has life evolved and survived on Earth for more than 3.5 billion years?; is there life beyond Earth? These questions served as a driving force for the space program and, eventually led to the interdisciplinary field of astrobiology in the late-1990s; bringing together astronomers, biologists, chemists, geologists, and physicists, to answer these fundamental questions about the role of biology in the Universe. NASA’s present search for life beyond Earth prioritizes the search for liquid water: where we find liquid water on Earth, we generally find life. Over the past few decades a major revolution has occurred, shifting our understanding of where liquid water may be found. Moons of the outer solar system such as Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus orbit the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and though these moons are covered in ice they harbor sub-surface liquid water oceans that contain many times the volume of liquid water found on Earth. These oceans are there today and have likely persisted for much of the history of the solar system, providing key environments in which to search for extant life beyond Earth—life from a possible second, independent origin. Recent discoveries of metabolically active microorganisms in subglacial environments on Earth provides us with a compelling case that sub-ice oceans in the outer Solar System possess the ingredients necessary to support life.

 

January 7th, 2013

WISSARD-Lite is how our project is being referred to this year. The 2013-2014 field season for the WISSARD project was downsized following the unfortunate timing of the government shutdown in October of 2013. As a result, drilling at the grounding zone embayment to continue biological, geological and chemical exploration where the outflow of Subglacial Lake Whillans meets the ocean has been postponed. We are very optimistic that WISSARD will return to Antarctica in 2014-15 to complete the original science objectives.

The WISSARD-Lite drill team is operating a smaller roving drill which will enable the geophysics team to travel to two sites within 50 and 100 kilometers from the 2012-2013 Lake Whillans site. At each site, two 15 cm diameter holes will be drilled, using the hot water roving drill, to a depth of 750 meters. Seismic, tilt and heat sensors will be deployed into the holes, and left in the ice to collect long term data. Because the ice stream will not be breached the team does not have to employ the clean access technologies used during the 2012-2013 season.

Eight WISSARD scientists have deployed to Antarctica this season from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, along with five drillers from the ANDRILL Science Office at the University of Nebraska. The drillers have worked persistently in McMurdo since November preparing the roving drill (formerly called the Cal-Tech drill) for its traverse ride to the SLW area and the drilling operations. Four staff from ASC, the NSF-support contractor, are supporting science efforts through the coordination of logistics and the close to 1000 km traverse to move the supplies, and drilling and science equipment from the McMurdo Station to the study sites on the Whillans Ice Stream.

As of today, the WISSARD-Lite Traverse is almost there! Their position: S84 19.934' W169 08.026' with only 114 remaining miles. If all goes well, the traverse will rendezvous with the WISSARD Science Team within the next few days. They will set up the initial drill site shortly thereafter. We are excited to hear the positive news from the field.
In the meantime, the science team has been busy at the CReSIS camp unpacking gear and preparing for the arrival of the traverse. They have performed an active-source seismic reflection survey using a sledgehammer on a plate of steel as the source of seismic waves, thereby testing the seismic receivers frozen into the SLW borehole last season AND one surface seismic unit. These tests were very successful in determining the systems have been functioning as planned.

More detail on the science team and the work they are accomplishing this season is available on the Science Reports section of this webpage.

 

December 15th, 2013

WISSARD is leaner and meaner for the 2013-2014 field season. The WISSARD project was downsized following the unfortunate timing of the government shutdown in October of 2013. As a result, drilling at the grounding zone embayment to continue biological, geological and chemical exploration where the outflow of Subglacial Lake Whillans meets the ocean has been delayed this year.

Finding life in Subglacial Lake Whillans was a fantastic accomplishment for the whole team; our success at the lake was built on two very successful seasons of geophysical surveying in 2010-2011, and 2011-2012, and the long-term research on the Whillans Ice Stream initiated in the 1960’s. The geophysics team will continue this important work this year using GPS and both surface and borehole seismic sensors, to map how the ice moves and to better understand conditions at the base of the ice stream. The WISSARD drill team is operating a smaller roving drill which will enable the geophysics team to travel to two sites within 50 and 100 kilometers from the 2012-2013 Lake Whillans site. At each site, two 15 cm holes will be drilled, using the hot water roving drill, to a depth of 750 meters. Seismic, tilt and heat sensors will be deployed into the holes, and left in the ice to collect long term data. Because the ice stream will not be breached the team does not have to employ the clean access technologies used during the 2012-2013 season.

Eight scientists are deploying this year from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, along with five drillers from the ANDRILL Science Office at the University of Nebraska. Four staff from ASC, the NSF-support contractor, are supporting science efforts through the coordination of logistics and the close to 1000 km traverse to move the supplies, and drilling and science equipment from the McMurdo Station to the study sites on the Whillans Ice Stream.

As of December 15, 2013, drill assembly is complete, and a successful drill operational test was completed at full pressure and operating temperatures. The drill team is making final adjustments and preparing to mount the drill on the traverse sleds for transport. The traverse will leave McMurdo at the end of December, arriving at the field site in mid-January. The seismic and GPS team will go into the field December 20th and work on ~30 remote instrument sites, joining the traverse and drilling teams, and additional scientists from UCSC, to deploy the seismic strings into the holes created by the drill team. The traverse team will leave the field sites in early February, with a planned return to McMurdo by mid-February.

 

October 16th, 2013

As the partial shutdown of the Federal Government ends and employees get back to work, the NSF Office of Polar Programs is working hard to restart the Antarctic season, weighing logistical issues and science priorities across the whole of the Antarctic program. Caretaker Status has been lifted at all three Antarctic bases, and we remain hopeful that we can resume a modified field season, yet to be defined, in order to achieve WISSARD science goals.  Stay tuned!

October 15th, 2013

The government shutdown has impacted the WISSARD project, as it has other science programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The National Science Foundation is responsible for managing and coordinating the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) on behalf of the nation, which includes providing support personnel and facilities and coordinating transportation and other logistics for scientific research. Because of a lapse in Federal appropriations to NSF, operational funding necessary for WISSARD science to continue in the field will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.

Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic Support Contractor (ASC) to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets. The agency is mandated to take this step as a result of the absence of appropriations and the Antideficiency Act. Due to restrictions of the Antideficiency Act, NSF representatives are strictly limited on communications directly with WISSARD scientists and staff.

Under caretaker status, the United States Antarctic Program will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property; this includes the research station and associated research facilities that support the WISSARD project. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property have been suspended. Currently, only those people considered essential to maintaining life and property remain in Antarctica. All scientists and other operational personnel due to have flown to Antarctica are currently being held back.

NSF remains committed to protecting the safety and health of its deployed personnel and to its stewardship of the USAP under these challenging circumstances. WISSARD team members recognize both the NSF USAP, and its Antarctic Support Contractor, Lockheed Martin, as important partners in WISSARD science endeavors, and hope for an immediate resolution to the current situation of NSF’s federal funding.

Thirteen WISSARD science groups at universities across the country are impacted by the halt of our science program. This effects our ability to continue cutting-edge, multidisciplinary science efforts after an extraordinarily successful field season last year, the employment of the WISSARD drill team, and perhaps most importantly, the training of the next generation of Polar scientists. Four post-doctoral scientists and 19 graduate students will be detrimentally impacted by significant delays in field science and data collection this season.

WISSARD scientists and staff are working on contingency plans should NSF receive funding from the government in time for the 2013-2014 season be restored. The WISSARD project is prioritizing potential field efforts to maximize the science that can be accomplished under different lengths of operations in the field and different levels of logistical support. WISSARD remains hopeful that the government shutdown will be resolved very soon and that we can refocus energies on our science, the result of many years of time commitments and monies expended for everyone involved in the WISSARD project.

 

22 August 2013

The WISSARD personnel have been in a planning and scheduling mode for the past several months. A number of changes have taken place which include the streamlining of our 2013-2014 WISSARD field season. Due to the sequestration and budget tightening in Washington, DC, the NSF has requested a reduction in the WISSARD roster of deploying scientists and a reduction in the logistical support originally planned for WISSARD. We intend to drill and collect samples this season at the Grounding Zone (GZ) once the science modules, drill platform and other camp infrastructures are in place. Additionally, a roving drill is scheduled to operate at several remote sites near the SLW site (last season’s drill site) and near the GZ. The main drill will not be activated at the SLW site as originally planned.
A synergistic WISSARD Science Meeting was held on August 13-14 on the UCSC campus in Santa Cruz, CA. 30 + students and PIs attended the meeting and most presented scientific findings from the data and samples retrieved last season. The PIs lead discussions on objectives for the coming season and the future of subglacial lake research. The collaboration among the scientists was evident in the lively discussions across disciplines.
Research analysis on Subglacial Lake Whillans’ water and sediment samples retrieved last season from the SLW drill site continues at various institutions.

 

July 19 2013

The WISSARD personnel have been in a planning and scheduling mode for the past several months. A number of changes have taken place which include the streamlining of our 2013-2014 WISSARD field season. Due to the sequestration and budget tightening in Washington, DC, the NSF has requested a reduction in the WISSARD roster of deploying scientists and a reduction in the logistical support originally planned for WISSARD. We intend to drill and collect samples this season at the Grounding Zone (GZ) once the science modules, drill platform and other camp infrastructures are in place. Additionally, a roving drill is scheduled to operate at several remote sites near the SLW site (last season’s drill site) and near the GZ. The main drill will not be activated at the SLW site as originally planned.
A WISSARD Science Meeting is scheduled for August 13-14 on the UCSC campus in Santa Cruz, CA. Students and PIs will present scientific findings from the data and samples retrieved last season and the PIs will lead discussions on objectives for the coming season and the future of subglacial lake research.
Research analysis on Subglacial Lake Whillans’ water and sediment samples retrieved last season from the SLW drill site continues at various institutions.

 

July 19 2013

Update - July 18, 2013
The WISSARD personnel have been in a planning and scheduling mode for the past several months. A number of changes have taken place which include the streamlining of our 2013-2014 WISSARD field season. Due to the sequestration and budget tightening in Washington, DC, the NSF has requested a reduction in the WISSARD roster of deploying scientists and a reduction in the logistical support originally planned for WISSARD. We intend to drill and collect samples this season at the Grounding Zone (GZ) once the science modules, drill platform and other camp infrastructures are in place. Additionally, a roving drill is scheduled to operate at several remote sites near the SLW site (last season’s drill site) and near the GZ. The main drill will not be activated at the SLW site as originally planned.
A WISSARD Science Meeting is scheduled for August 13-14 on the UCSC campus in Santa Cruz, CA. Students and PIs will present scientific findings from the data and samples retrieved last season and the PIs will lead discussions on objectives for the coming season and the future of sub-glacial lake research.
Research analysis on Sub-glacial Lake Whillans’ water and sediment samples retrieved last season from the SLW site continues at various institutions.

 

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.

 

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