WAIS Divide Ice Core Update - Spring 2008

WAIS Divide ice coring arch facility
WAIS Divide ice coring arch facility. —Credit: Jay Johnson/UW-Madison

The third season for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide Ice Core Project ended on 05 February 2008. The inaugural season of deep drilling with the Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) Drill went very well and core quality was excellent. Full production coring began on 7 January with two shifts operating. A third shift was started on 10 January initiating 24 hour/day operations. Coring continued through 20 January with a total of approximately 466 meters of ice drilled giving a final bore hole depth of 580 meters. The core quality produced by the DISC Drill was excellent. Average drilled core length was 2.7 meters and average core production was about 37 meters per day with a total of 180 runs made. Due to weather issues and delayed power module materials, the amount of time available for production drilling was 9 days less than had been planned and the total depth drilled, therefore, was short of the 800+ meter goal for the season. If the number of planned drilling days had been available, drilling 800+ meters would likely have been achieved.

Lowering the DISC Drill's winch drum into place
Lowering the DISC Drill's winch drum into place. —Credit: Jay Johnson/UW-Madison

The core handling line (CHL) at WAIS Divide involved logging and documenting the core and preparing it for shipment back to the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) in Denver, CO. This year's CHL also involved cutting samples for physical properties and measuring the electrical properties of the ice. Twenty-one 10-cm samples taken at 20-meter intervals from 120 meters to 520 meters were cut for physical properties. Electrical properties were measured on all 466 meters of ice drilled this season. All ice drilled this season, except for the last three meters, has been shipped back to the NICL and will be worked on at this summer's core processing line.

Preparations for the 2008/2009 field season are already underway. The SCO has hired seven science technicians to work on the WAIS Divide core handling line. Ice Coring and Drilling Services is in the final stages of hiring their staff. Discussions with NSF and RPSC are underway regarding the anticipated schedule for the 2008/2009 field season. The goal is to reach at least 1400 meters depth by the end of next season.