Working together, a team of 11 scientists and engineers have managed to drill a hole measuring 1.3 miles deep in the Antarctic ice.
The British Antarctic Survey team used a hot water drilling technique to drill down through a sheet of ice in West Antarctica to the sediment it covered.
“I have waited for this moment for a long time and am delighted that we’ve finally achieved our goal,” Dr. Andy Smith told the Daily Mail from the Rutford Ice Stream.
The hot water drilling technique has been in use for about three decades to provide scientists with access to areas below the Antarctic ice.
Using gas generators and aviation fuel-powered water heaters, the team heated the drill water to more than 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water was used to blast a hole nearly a foot in diameter into the ice.
However, this is the deepest borehole that researchers have been able to drill in the Antarctic ice. The project in West Antarctica was first attempted 15 years ago, in 2004, but failed at the time.
The first hole was completed on January 8, after 63 hours of drilling. The team finished a second hole on January 22. Instruments lowered through the holes in the Antarctic ice will record pressure, water temperature, and other data.
“There are gaps in our knowledge of what’s happening in West Antarctica, and by studying the area where the ice sits on soft sediment, we can understand better how this region may change in the future and contribute to global sea-level rise,” Smith told the Mail.
The study could help researchers better understand the loss of mass in Antarctic ice, particularly in the western part of the continent. The team plans to work at the site until mid-February, and work has already begun on a second site.
“We know that warmer ocean waters are eroding many of West Antarctica’s glaciers,” Dr. Keith Makinson told the Mail. “What we’re trying to understand is how slippery the sediment underneath these glaciers is, and therefore how quickly they might flow off the continent into the sea. This will help us determine future sea level rise from West Antarctica with more certainty.”
The BAS team is working with researchers at the University of Swansea, the University of Bristol, University College London, Leeds University, Pennsylvania State University and the U.S. National Science Foundation on the project.
By Kyla Cathey, Earth.com Contributing Writer