Subglacial Lake Whillans: Views of the Borehole, and Water and Sediment Samples

Date: 
January, 2013
The WISSARD borehole at Subglacial Lake Whillans - this deep section of the borehole is about 0.5 meters (20 inches) in diameter and shows corrugations due to turbulence during melting (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).

Four days of 24-hour borehole operations were carried out at the WISSARD site at Subglacial Lake Whillans. Using a specially-designed hot water drill to ensure clean access to the pristine subglacial environment, a 800 meter borehole was drilled into the ice to access the lake. A unique underwater camera designed by Dr. Alberto Behar from Arizona State University and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) captured the beautiful images of the borehole, shown here. Both water and sediment samples were collected from the lake. Water sampling tools deployed included a niskin water sampler, which allows water sample collection at designated depths, an in situ McLane water sampler that concentrates water particulates on filters for further analyses, and a CTD which measures Conductivity, Temperature and water Depth.

Three different sediment sampling tools were used including a multi-corer, which collected 3 ~40 cm cores each time it was deployed, a piston corer, and a larger percussion corer. For more information about our sampling tools, check out the Science Instrumentation section of the WISSARD webpage.

Photo Gallery: 
Water surface at 80 meters (262 feet) in the borehole--after the borehole penetrated into Subglacial Lake Whillans the water level in the borehole shot up by 30 meters (98 feet) in less than a minute (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).
Upper part of the borehole with the return water hose and cable on the right - downhole pump was placed at about 120 meters (394 feet) below surface to drive water back to the WISSARD drill for re-heating and cleaning.  Small ice crystals forming in cold water within the borehole are floating in front of the camera lens (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).
The borehole as viewed through the germicidal UV collar - the collar is used to prevent contamination of the subglacial environment and to recover clean samples for microbial analyses.  The collar is about 1.5 meters (5 feet) across while the borehole is 0.5 meters (20 inches) in diameter and reaches down to 800 meters (2625 feet) below surface (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).
The WISSARD borehole at Subglacial Lake Whillans - this deep section of the borehole is about 0.5 meters (20 inches) in diameter and shows corrugations due to turbulence during melting (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).
Water from Subglacial Lake Whillans--about 0.4 liter (2 glasses) of Subglacial Lake Whillans water with light brown color due to small suspended particles (credit: Dr. Mark Skidmore, MSU)
Sediment core from Subglacial Lake Whillans - this core tube from the multicorer is 6 centimeter (2.4 inches) across and about 60 centimeters (24 inches) and contains about 45 cm (18 inches) of very soft sediments and 15 centimeters (6 inches) of turbid lake water above the sediments (credit: Dr. Mark Skidmore, MSU).
Suspended sediment filtered from Subglacial Lake Whillans water onto a 0.2 micron filter -  these extremely fine sediments were concentrated on a 0.2 micron filter from about 5 liters (1.5 gallons) using an underwater filtration system, which was placed in the lake for about 2 hours (credit: Dr. Mark Skidmore, MSU).
The first view of the bottom of Subglacial Lake Whillans - soft lake sediments crumble as the WISSARD underwater camera touches the bottom.  The area viewed in the image is about 0.15 meters (6 inches) across (credit: Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA).