Images of the Day
Surprisingly high geothermal heating revealed beneath West Antarctic Ice Sheet
New WISSARD science results were published this week. An investigation led by Andy Fisher at UCSC found that the amount of heat flowing toward the base of the West Antarctic ice sheet from geothermal sources deep within the Earth is surprisingly high, providing insight into mechanisms for ice sheet instability. Temperatures on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) can plummet below minus 50 degrees Celsius in winter. But under the ice, scientists have found geothermal heat seeping up from Earth’s interior. The heat production that they measured is nearly four times the global average and could melt up to 35 cubic kilometres of water off the bottom of the WAIS each year, according to results reported in the journal Science Advances. Read more in Scientific American.
Fish at the Grounding Zone
Fish swimming over a bed of angular gravel at the grounding zone. The gravel and smaller sediments covering this seafloor fall out of the base of the melting ice sheet that is located here about 30 feet above the seafloor. WISSARD scientists observed in the several hours of taking video, a number of gravels and many smaller fragments falling down on the seafloor. This may be why benthic life (e.g. sea stars, sponges, urchins) has not established itself on this seafloor because they would be pelted by the rock fragments falling from above. However, fish are agile enough to avoid these projectiles as they take advantage of these seemingly desert-like feeding grounds. (Image credit: Deep-SCINI UNL-Andrill SMO).
Check out an interview with Chief Scientist Ross Powell on the CBC radio show Quirks and Quarks: Discovery: Fish Under Antarctic Ice.
See the Scientific American article Discovery: Fish Live Beneath Antarctica.
Discovery at the Whillans Grounding Zone
The WISSARD team accomplished much in the field during the 2014-2015 season, from sediment sampling to basal ice coring, from the successful deployment of a geothermal probe and the Deep SCINI ROV.
WISSARD also made some unexpected finds at the Grounding Zone, including fish! This an image of the fish observed on the sea floor at Whillans grounding zone. At the top of the image are end points of the top two structural support bars of Deep SCINI frame. The base of the Ross Ice Shelf is about 10 meters above. Stay tuned as research results are processed and shared. WISSARD image.
See the Scientific American article Discovery: Fish Live Beneath Antarctica.
Successful Sediment Sampling!
WISSARD science progress continues! Dr. Reed Scherer examines a core from the multicorer. A variety of sediment samplers are for recovering different types of sediment mainly based on their stiffness. Soft sediments are usually collected using short cores with wide barrels that do not disturb the sediment-water interface. Corers with deeper penetration usually encounter sediment with increasing stiffness and therefore need greater weight or other features, such as vibration or rotation to enable deeper penetration.
The percussion corer is designed to be lowered to the lake or sea floor on the smart cable of the multipurpose winch, and then to hammer a core barrel up to 5m-long into stiff over-consolidated sediment such as subglacial till.
The multicorer is a lightly modified off-the-shelf system designed by the Austrian Uwitech Company that is well-tried in many lakes around the world. It is designed to take three replicate cores at the one time after self-triggering on striking the bottom sediment during descent.
See the Scientific American article, Scientists Drill through 2,400 Feet of Antarctic Ice for Climate Clues.
WISSARD Site from the Air
The WISSARD deep field site overhead January 12th, 2015.
The upper right part of the image shows the individual 4-season tents each of the WISSARD personnel sleep in, arranged in neat rows like a mini-neighborhood. Just below this, you can see the larger yellow tent which serves as the galley where meals are served. When not being used for meals, this tent serves as a warm location where scientists can work on computers or talk with colleagues. All of the traverse and camp equipment is stored below the yellow tent, and includes the large tractors used to move the WISSARD equipment into place. In addition to the WISSARD scientists there is a great crew of support folks who provide support to 24 hour science operations and make sure the camp functions. This means keeping the runways accessible, moving, packing and storing necessary equipment, and feeding a lot of hungry people all the time!
The four red box cars lined in a row contain the heaters which heat the water for the hot water drill. Two big blue generators with enough power to power a small city, are adjacent to the right of the heaters in the picture. Just below the heaters, but closer to the generators, is the snow melting container where snow is melted as the source water for the drill. An adjacent grey boxcar holds a very high-end filter, which insures the water used in the drill is clean and without microorganisms or other impurities. This is a very important part of the WISSARD clean access protocol.
Just above these boxcars, there is another red container (This makes the top of a lower case "t" if you use your imagination). This is the container that holds the drill reel which contains the drill hose on a big spool inside the container. The hose is extended from a reel at the top the this container, that hangs over the ice where the borehole is created. This overhanging reel is removed when the borehole is complete, so that science instruments can be deployed into the borehole using a crane and a variety of winches, depending on which tool is being used for sampling. The two red box cars which parallel each other are the on-site chemistry and sediment laboratories where the scientists process samples when they are not sampling. Science tools are also sterilized with very strong hydrogen peroxide in one half of the sediment lab, another step in the clean access protocol. Finally, the larger tools, like the piston corer, being deployed by Northern Illinois University are housed in the large yellow container. Data is also captured in real-time from a control station within this container. Scientists are able to monitor the borehole using cameras and collect other real-time data.
Drilling is a success!
Weather continues to be good since yesterday when the last of the science team successfully arrived at camp and hit the ground running; getting oriented to camp and starting science operations early this morning. This now allows for excellent progress on all fronts.
Camp is now fully in to science ops in the main borehole after deploying “the Doctor”, a video camera, this morning, and we are now progressing through the instrument deployment sequence planned and mapped-out ahead of time in the “borehole timeline”.
A CTD was deployed next and showed sediment bottom is at 747m below ice surface, which has 10m of seawater immediately above. Ice base appears to be at 737m below ice surface and then there are about 20m of brackish water in what we are currently interpreting as the bottom of the borehole.
A view of the undisturbed bottom from the deep field using "the Doctor" camera.
Boomeranged: An unfortunate, but not uncommon condition in Antarctic science, where a flight destined for Antarctica or a field location in Antarctica, is turned around and directed back to its point of origin before reaching its destination.
An LC 130 flight with the remaining 11 scientists left this morning. It was within 10 minutes of landing after a two hour flight to the WISSARD camp, and was turned around due to low visibility. WISSARD's will try again tomorrow. January 6th was their scheduled date to fly so we hope they can stay on schedule with good flying conditions tomorrow. Drilling preparations are underway and are slated to start in the next 48 hours.
Below: A C-130 landing at the WISSARD camp in 2013 (Chad Carpenter, image); Chief Scientist, Ross Powell, excited and ready to do some science as they head to the plane; and Project Manager John Sherve reloads the bags as they head back to McMurdo...
Image: Chad Carpenter, 2013
Weather in Antarctica
Weather conditions determine how and when science gets done in Antarctica. The weather in Antarctica is classified as being Condition 3 (nice weather), Condition 2 (not so nice), or Condition 1, blizzard. Today 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, or Condition 1. One of the tents, probably weakened from constant UV radiation from 24 hrs of sunlight, sustained a tear, (pictured). Shoveling snow will be added to the list of things to do once the storm abates! Antarctica has the lowest naturally occurring temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth: −89.2 °C (-128 F), but temperatures have been warm in the field--in the 30's. Windy but warm--everyone is safe and in good spirits!
WISSARD's Bid 2014 Goodbye from the Deep Field
The current WISSARD crew in the deep field camp inside the very cozy Rac-Tent which is the only common space at camp, used for meals and DNF (do not freeze) space. The kitchen area is behind the photographer, the camera is aimed at the front door and shows the team at the tables. Today 5 additional WISSARD scientists joined the group in the field, with the balance to join after the holiday.
WISSARD updates can also be found on Facebook; graduate student Carolyn Branecky from the University of California-Santa Cruz is blogging from the field at ucscice.blogspot.com.
Happy New Year from WISSARD!
WISSARD 2014-2015 Deep Field Season Commences
The WISSARD 2014-2015 camp officially opened today. The WISSARD drill team is in the field readying the equipment for drilling operations which will begin after the New Year.
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.
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. Image: Rachel Xidis/NIU.
WISSARD Traverse Reaches 2014-2015 Field Site
The WISSARD traverse team has reached the deep field site, and has begun to set up the camp, in anticipation for field operations which will begin in late December. Equipment is being readied, a landing strip prepared, and camp facilities established.
Science Breakthrough's of 2014: Is WISSARD Number 1?!!
Our WISSARD project is one of 19 scientific breakthroughs of the year being voted on for # 1 at SCIENCE. Please follow the link below to cast your vote. Round one of the voting ends on 1 December so only a couple days left!!