WISSARD Updates

January 29th, 2013

After penetrating the lake on 27 January, we continued to use the drill in order to ream the hole to a suitable size and shape for deployment of the science instruments. Several inspections were done with the "mothership" live feed video camera to verify the condition of the borehole. We then were able to successfully collect water and sediment samples using stringent clean techniques. Temperature and conductivity measurements verified that the lake water was distinct from the melted glacier ice created during the borehole drilling process. The water samples underwent preliminary analysis and preservation in our field lab for the presence of microbes, while also looking for biological activity and evidence of geochemical processes. A large sample was collected for detailed DNA analysis back in our home laboratories.
We also deployed an instrument array to measure a variety of physical and chemical parameters, though unfortunately the deployment could not be completed when there were functional problems with the large winch being used. When the sediment multi-corer was deployed it was determined that the borehole was rapidly freezing back and that there could potentially be problems for retrieval of samples, thus we decided to withdraw the instruments and further ream the hole using the hot water drill system. This was planned to last for another 24 hours, after which we will complete as much sampling as sampling as we can before it is necessary to start packing up camp. A number of news articles and blogs have been posted describing the excitement and progress we have made to collect these first intact samples from a subglacial aquatic environment.

 

January 28th, 2013

WISSARD Team Collects First Intact Samples from an Antarctic Subglacial Lake

Following more than a decade of international and national planning, three and a half years of project preparation, and an intense week of on-ice weather delays, the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) field team successfully drilled through the overlying ice sheet and sampled directly the waters and sediments of Subglacial Lake Whillans on 28 January 2013 at 0500 h. This effort marks the first successful retrieval of clean whole samples from an Antarctic subglacial lake. Water and sediment samples returned to the surface are now being processed to answer seminal questions related to the structure and function of subglacial microbial life, climate history, and contemporary ice sheet dynamics. Video surveys of the lake floor and in-situ measurements of selected physical and chemical properties of the waters and sediments are further allowing the team to characterize the lake and its environs.

The interdisciplinary team of WISSARD scientists represents a consortium of US universities and two collaborating international institutions. This team includes experts on life in icy environments (led by Prof. John Priscu, Montana State University), glacial geology (led by Prof. Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University) and glacial hydrology (led by Prof. Slawek Tulaczyk, University of California, Santa Cruz). The mutual expertise by these groups will allow the data collected to be cast in a systemic, global context.

Access to the lake required drilling through 800 m of ice using a specialized hot-water drill, fabricated and operated by a team of engineers and technicians directed by Dr. Frank Rack (University of Nebraska - Lincoln). The drill was fitted with a filtration and germicidal UV system to prevent contamination of the subglacial environment and to recover clean samples for microbial analyses. In addition, the numerous customized scientific samplers and instruments used for this project were also carefully cleaned before being lowered into the borehole through the ice and into the lake. Such cleaning ensured that we met international guidelines as stewards of this isolated environment while at the same time protecting the integrity of the precious samples recovered.

WISSARD’s groundbreaking exploration of Antarctica’s subglacial environment marks the beginning of a new era in polar science, opening the window for future interdisciplinary scientific investigations of one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. Thanks in large part to the education and outreach components of WISSARD, the project has been followed closely by people across the globe and we hope that our efforts will inspire the next generation of polar scientists.

WISSARD science and logistical endeavors have endured numerous challenges during both the inception and implementation of the project. We could not have succeeded without the extraordinary support afforded by the 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron of the NY Air National Guard, Kenn Borek Air, and by many dedicated individuals working as part of the Antarctic Support Contractor, managed by Lockheed-Martin. Core funding for the WISSARD project came from the National Science Foundation - Office of Polar Programs (NSF-OPP; http://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=OPP), with additional funds for instrument development provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Cryospheric Sciences Program (NASA-CSP; http://ice.nasa.gov/), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA; http://www.noaa.gov/), and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (http://www.moore.org/).

 

January 27th, 2013

Drilling continued on 25 and 26 January. The drill encoder indicated a depth of 796 m in the early hours of 26 January. The drill was left at this depth for several hours to enlarge borehole diameter in this region. The drill was then pulled from the hole at about 0400 h (26 January) and the mothership team began preparing to deploy this tool to provide a live video feed of the borehole to the surface. The mothership was deployed at 0555 h (26 January) with the borehole return pump and power cable still in the borehole, which posed an obstacle to deployment. The drillers adjusted the return pump lines and the mothership was successfully deployed at 0805 h. The tool was lowered at a rate of 10 to 20 m/minute. As the mothership camera reached 690 m we observed that the latest drill deployment formed a deviation from the main borehole. It was clear that this situation would compromise deployment of borehole science tools so we decided to melt in this region for several hours, hoping that this would coalesce the two holes (melt the two holes together). Borehole water level sensor revealed that the lake has not been penetrated. Reaming in the region near 690 m continued throughout the day and the mothership was again deployed at ~1700 h on 26 January and revealed that the deviation remained at ~ 690 m. The drill was lowered once again to ream the borehole below 690 m and continue deepening of the hole. At 0804 h on 27 January the water level in the borehole rose rapidly from 110 m to about 80 m, with the latter being the estimated equilibrium water head in the lake based on available ice and firn thickness data. At the same time, the load cell showed a drop of 100 pounds. Both real-time sensor readings are consistent with connecting the borehole to Subglacial Lake Whillans. Initial estimates imply that the ice is 801 m thick above the lake, which agrees very well with the prior estimate based on seismic imaging (802m) published by Horgan et al. (2011). The drillers will continue to ream the hole throughout the day. We plan to deploy the mothership on the evening of 27 January to verify that the lake was penetrated, determine if the borehole diameter is appropriate for tool deployment, measure the thickness of the ice over the lake, and measure the depth of the lake.

 

January 26th 2013

The drill team is still in full drilling mode, working on completing the borehole to Subglacial Lake Whillans. The field team continues to work hard, most of the team has moved to 12 hour shifts working 24 hours a day. The weather at the Lake is holding and not impeding drilling operations. The science teams are preping instruments for clean access to the lake. The McMurdo crew has been unable to meet the team in the field, and is working on end of season preparations in McMurdo.

 

January 25th 2013

Excitement is in the air as we are attempting to drill into a subglacial lake using clean access drilling. Drilling is going ahead of schedule and the WISSARD team is working hard at the Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) field camp/drill site. If everything stays on track, they expect to penetrate the Lake tonight and start scientific sampling in the early morning hours. The drill team reached 700 meters last night at 3 am, and sent a camera down to inspect the borehole. The hole looks good, more than 30 cm in diameter. Drillers will drill rapidly (~0.5 m/min) for the next 50 m then slow down for the final 50 m. They hope to enter the lake around 6 PM local time, then ream to a 61cm diameter until around 1 AM. The first science sampling will begin at 2 AM if all goes well.

 

January 21st, 2013

The weather Gods are with us after days of weather delays!! Two planes left for the lake early Monday morning, McMurdo time, filled with personnel and cargo. If the weather holds, the majority of remaining personnel will head to the lake tomorrow and the following day. The logistics crew, traverse personnel, and first wave of drillers have made good progress at the site, setting up the field camp, grooming the runways, configuring the drilling platform, the drill, and the science labs. We are cautiously optimistic that we can stick to our sampling field schedule if the weather holds.

 

January 15th, 2013

**While the traverse team has made it to the lake, the scientists have not made it out of McMurdo Station due to 3 days of weather delays....sampling protocols and sceince timelines have been reviewed, and scientists and drillers are ready, as we wait to get to the lake.**

Another milestone has been achieved, the WISSARD traverse team has reached the lake!! WISSARD momentum is building as the deep field science and drill teams prepare for deployment. The first drill team flies to the lake tomorrow.  Members of C-522-M (RAGES; R. Powell, lead) have recently returned to McMurdo for field operations and have worked on data analysis for proving instrumentation after the McMurdo Ice Shelf testing, and then getting the instruments readied for lake deployment. The biology team (GBASE; C-523-M; J. Priscu, lead) has completed analyses from their recent MIS testing of the new ‘clean access’ hot water drilling system. This test demonstrated that the WISSARD drill successfully meets the environmental code of conduct established for clean access into Antarctic subglacial aquatic environments. The GPS team led by S. Tulaczyk (LISSARD; C-521-M) is currently on weather hold but hopes to deploy soon and meet the WISSARD traverse at the Lake Whillans Camp. Tulaczyk’s team will conduct survey work at the Whillans grounding line and, importantly, will confirm and then mark the spot where we will drill into the lake. This location was selected based on seismic and radar surveys from previous seasons and represents one of the deepest portions of Subglacial Lake Whillans.

 

January 8th, 2012

Science Update:

The GPS Team (Tulaczyk C-521-M) is preparing for deep field deployment; currently weather is delaying their cargo put-in.

The remainder of the SLW team continues to optimize field plans. This largely involves getting our field gear, sampling supplies and instruments into the science cargo system and working out fixed-wing details.

An operations meeting was held yesterday with NSF and ASC to review the SLW logistics plan and bring on-station support staff up to speed on our progress. Our plan was well received and everyone is motivated moving forward.

Traverse Update: January 7th

The traverse has passed the halfway mark on its way to Subglacial Lake Whillans. The team made 71.8 miles of progress, with 278.2 miles to go. The traverse team is optimistic they will reach SLW by weeks end.

Outreach  Update:

Thirty hours of film footage has been collected thanks to the efforts of Dave Monk and ASC videographer Ralph Maestas.  Footage will be edited and shared through a variety of products and mediums.

WISSARD teacher Betty Trummel continues to write daily blog posts about the project; www.scienceroadshow.wordpress.com. Additional blogs about the project are located on the WISSARD webpage/blogs and will be highlighted individually in daily reports.

Weather

A dust storm at McMurdo, combined with a few warm sunny days has degraded the surface of the McMurdo roads and run/ski ways. This has caused problems for surface vehicles and aircraft and has slowed the movement of cargo and people.

 

 

 

 

 

January 7th, 2013

WISSARD Traverse Update: January 7th.
The traverse has passed the halfway mark on its way to Subglacial Lake Whillans. The team made 71.8 miles of progress, with 278.2 miles to go.
Check out a blog post about the traverse written by Betty Trummel a member of the WISSARD Education and Outreach team...http://scienceroadshow.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/we-pull-for-science-a-tr...

WISSARD Traverse Update: January 6th.
The traverse made great progress today, gaining 75.7 miles with no stops for repairs. The PDM fared well after a long day of travel, and the traverse team projects continued progress.
349.3 miles to go...

WISSARD Traverse Update: January 5th.
After making good progress yesterday, the traverse slowed for repairs on the 5th. The Power Distribution Module (PDM) has developed cracks as it rests on the sled kit, and the traverse crew stopped to make welding repairs. They decided to switch sleds to mitigate further wear and tear. The crew used three CAT Cranes in the field to place the PDM on a solid platformed Lehman sled, and the Northern Illinois University Central Control Unit on the ISO kit.
The traverse crew is optimistic that they will reach Subglacial Lake Whillans by the end of the week, barring any additional repair delays, keeping the project on schedule for deep field operations.

WISSARD Traverse Update: January 4th.
The traverse continues with 62.5 miles gained and 424.5 miles to go. Routine tractor and sled maintenance were accomplished as good weather prevails.

WISSARD Traverse Update January 2nd
No mileage gained today as some of the WISSARD modules needed welding repairs; and adjustments were made to load configurations on the line.

WISSARD Traverse Update January 1st, 39.2 miles travelled, 539.8 to go.

Traverse Update: Since departing late on Sunday they have made it through the shear zone without any large problems, but have had to do some welding repairs on some of the sleds, and thus have not made any large mileages yet. Tenative arrival date at SLW is January 14th.

WISSARDS were busy with deep field preparations, borehole timeline schedules, crevasse training, and experimental design set up.

 

December 30th, 2012

WISSARDS were busy today. This morning the deep field seismic group organized their food cache for a month in the field, packing and getting it ready to ship. WISSARD's mobilized to wish the traverse team well as they left for the approximate 12 day journey to Subglacial Lake Whillans. Members of the WISSARD group from Santa Cruz, San Diego and Aberystwyth arrived. Scientists are working on deep field preparations, conducting microbial experiments, and analyzing data from the WISSARD test site.

 

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