“We’re Off to See the WISSARD” — test site that is!

“We’re Off to See the WISSARD” — test site, that is!

I was very excited to speak with my 4th grade students back in Crystal Lake this morning. I had an early alarm today (4:50 am) and called them right at 5:00 am…10:00 am TUESDAY their time. Strange to think I’ve already lived that day! It was great to hear everyone’s voices. I really miss my students a lot!

I also want to include some fun photos of Sydney that Coral sent me yesterday. These are some of the very last photos of our little friend, before he was left near Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans.

Here is Sydney on the voyage to Antarctica. He’s looking out of his porthole on the Russian icebreaker.


This is a nice shot of Sydney near Terra Nova Bay, the bay at Cape Evans.


This is the last known photo of Sydney near Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans. Do you see the enormous Barne Glacier in the background? It’s a huge wall of ice, a glacier ending its journey over the continent by meeting the sea. I think Sydney already looks a bit lonely in this photograph. Maybe he knew something was about to happen and his life would change!


I took the 7:15 am shuttle from the bus stop at Derelict Junction (I love the funny names around town), and left McMurdo on a Delta bound for the WISSARD test site. Since a Delta is much slower than a van, the trip out took about 40 minutes. Here is a short video clip below that gives you an idea of what that ride was like.

The WISSARD test site has changed a lot in the past 10 days since my initial visit. The drilling deck has been erected and a tent assembled over the area surrounding where the actual drill hole will be. Work continues on wiring the generators and preparing the hoses for hot water drilling. Many plumbing and electrical tasks have been completed. Containers are moved into position for the testing to begin. Weather has been good for the most part and the drillers, electricians, traverse crew, heavy equipment operators and technicians have put in many long hours to prepare this test site.

I became more familiar with several key components of our project today, and I’d like to begin sharing some of those things with you. I’m going to focus on just a few things today, since there is WAY too much going on here to report in one blog entry. I’ll tell you about this test site bit by bit in the next week or so.

The drilling system is quite large and full of many bits and pieces. The LARS (launch and recovery system) is one of the most obvious parts of this whole operation. The winch (reel with black cable wound around it) is called the multi-purpose winch. Inside of that black cable you’d find optical fibers, electrical conductors, and a woven steel wrap for load-bearing capability.


Mike (from DOER, I’ll explain that in a bit) is working on the LARS in the photo below.


This cable is used to deploy several of our instruments, including the percussion corer (which collects sediment samples), the IPSIE (Instrument Package for Sub-Ice Exploration), and the WIPSIE (water IPSIE). These instruments do things such as measure the current/flow rate, measure the amount of sediment suspended in the water, and take water samples. I’m sure I’m not giving you 100% of the information, but I don’t want to overwhelm you.

Under the place on the drilling deck where the actual drill hole will be, there is a device known as the “moon pool.” I’ve been hearing about this for over a week now and I was really curious to see what it was. It’s a rounded container that has UV (ultraviolet) lights inside of it. Those UV lights will pass through the white tubing used for our water supply for drilling, killing any bacteria that might be in the water. This is an example of clean drilling technology. The water is re-circulated, and reused providing clean drilling access throughout our process.

A crane lifts, moves, and places tools and equipment on the drilling deck. LARS deploys the instruments down the hole, and recovers them once data and/or samples are collected. That black cable on the LARS system is referred to as the umbilical chord, because it is the lifeline between the tools and the drilling deck. Without it, it’s not possible to recover the tools and equipment.


The hot water drill hose has two diameters. The hose with the larger diameter is used for the drill tip. The hose with the smaller diameter is used for the ice coring tool.


Notice the crescent-shaped attachment on the top of this container. It is used to feed the hot water hose at the drill site. It’s part of the LARS.


The drilling deck is bordered by containers on all sides. These house labs for scientists, work areas such as the NIU workshop in a 40 ft. container, the reels of hose for the hot water drill, and the command & control container. The command & control center includes computers that not only help operate the tools being deployed into the hole, but they retrieve the data that is collected by those tools.

Tim (NIU grad student) worked on wiring in the command and control container.


In the NIU workshop, tools that were developed by DOER (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) are being assembled and stored. DOER specializes in “Subsea Robotics and Submersible Systems.” This would be the IPSIE and WIPSIE, percussion corer, and the POP (Physical Instrument Package).



Some of these tools are so heavy that they are lifted by something called a gantry. That’s an overhead crane on rails, built inside of the container. This gantry helps lift the heavy sections of the tools for assembly.


We watched as a huge tractor shifted our NIU container just 6 inches closer to the drilling deck. Later the same tractor turned a different container completely around and backed it closer to the drilling deck. Everything is done with such precision. We have many experienced drillers, electricians, and heavy equipment operators on this project.


The same tractor turned this red container completely around and moved it closer to the drilling deck.


Look at how big the tracks are on this vehicle.  HUGE!


Our testing process near McMurdo will wrap up on or about December 21st. Things will be moving quickly once they begin hot water drilling and testing in a few days. One thing to remember is that this whole operation will be taken apart, packed up, and transported across the ice and snow to the Lake Whillans drill site about 500 miles from McMurdo Station.  I’ll tell you more about this traverse later in my blog posts.

Mt. Erebus was looking beautiful today as usual.  Notice the steam puffing out of the top of the volcano.


In closing, I’d like to share a photo for the students at Husmann Elementary School. Believe it or not, that’s ME standing by the white container in McMurdo, holding the Husmann banner. I couldn’t stand in the intersection because it was too dangerous with bulldozers and vehicles coming and going. But, I wanted you all to know I tried this like you asked me to. I miss my friends at Husmann! Please stay in touch!

Betty on Webcam

39 responses to ““We’re Off to See the WISSARD” — test site that is!

    • Yes, it is, Colin. And, Mt. Erebus has a large lava lake inside the crater. It’s one of the largest in the world. Crazy how the earth’s systems work, isn’t it?

  1. Betty, you have an amazing ability to teach and entertain us at the same time. You’re right when you say there is WAY too much to learn and share, but I certainly appreciate your trying. It’s hard to wrap my mind around all you’re doing and seeing while we work our way towards the holidays here. It’s a big, wide, interesting world, isn’t it? Thanks for broadening ours. Traveling mercies to you!

    • Thanks so much for your continued great comments, Ann. I am excited about the science work that’s coming up. Hot water drilling is the first step…and then we’ll get very busy! I’m happy to be teaching everyone about the process of science through my work on the WISSARD Project. Our holiday season is nothing like back home…. there are a few decorations around “town” but seriously I have to remind myself that it’s the Christmas season. We do have a lovely chapel, so I’ll write about that sometime soon. Happy Holidays to you!

  2. Great post! Enjoyed your discussion on some of the machines and tools. However you were difficult to see waving that Husmann flag;)

    • Thanks Tom and you are right….I have to try the Husmann banner thing again when it’s a less busy time of the day! Sometimes they zoom the camera out and it’s even farther away….I have to coordinate it all very carefully! 🙂

  3. Betty,

    I told the students at Husmann all about bears; their biology and ecology last week. There were about 100 students in all. Then I shared some native American oral tradition with them bu telling them the story about “Why Bears Have short Tails.” We all had a good time.

    Finished my 4th workshop in WI and IL. Leaving for the airport and Montana in a half hour.

    Have been enjoying your updates!!! Lots of sites and things that I remember.

    Stay safe my friend.


    • Hi Jim,
      I’m sure my students learned SO much from your visit. I know I always learn something new from you! I’m sure you recognize things around McMurdo Station from your time here. Some things haven’t changed that much and others are very different. Some of the vehicles are left over from the Navy days. Deltas and heavy equipment must last forever! Stay in touch! Happy Holidays!

    • I loved hearing your voice, Julia! I miss you so much! I will talk with you again next week and maybe I’ll even see you!!! How is the “Meet Me in Antarctica” board coming along? Will you all “get” here soon? Stay in touch! Hello to your whole family and Happy Holidays! Love, Mrs. Trummel

    • Yes, a mitten would do the trick! I miss you dear friend! How’s the snow in Steamboat? Send me an email when you can. Love you! xo Boop

  4. Great reading about your adventure. Josie was very excited to talk to you yesterday. She is doing her best to get to Antartica soon 🙂 Take care.

    • Hello Yeomans family! SO nice to hear from you! I miss my Husmann family a lot. It was SUPER fun to talk with the kids yesterday and I loved hearing Josie’s voice! The class had great questions and I can’t wait to talk with them next week. I hope I will be able to see them, too. We’re working on that educational outreach link. Happy Holidays to your whole family! 🙂 Stay in touch…please!

  5. hi mrs.Trummel! l wish i was there beacause i love snow! i would also like to ride the delta! Thanks for showing the banner! stay worm from Jorge 4A

    • Hello Jorge, If you like snow, this is the place to go! The Delta is a very cool old vehicle. You have to climb up a steep ladder that folds up on the back of the passenger part of the Delta. I got to ride up in the front yesterday and it was even steeper to climb up to that seat. I had to grab onto the handles and pull myself up. It was fun though. I hope you can watch the video at home….it shows what it’s like to ride up front. Keep reading the blogs and writing to me! 🙂

  6. VERY cool! I love how you incorporate both photos and videos. It really helps a visual learner such as myself! How did NIU get involved with research in Antarctica?

    • NIU has a long history of involvement with Antarctic research. One of the first scientists I met, Peter Webb, originally came from New Zealand to be on the faculty at NIU. He eventually moved on to teach and do research for Ohio State University. Ross Powell, one of our PI’s (principal investigators, in other words, lead scientist on the project) has been at NIU for years. He came from New Zealand to do graduate work with Peter as his advisor. Ross has been at NIU since the 1970’s. Their geology department has received numerous grants from NSF (the National Science Foundation) to conduct research in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the world. Good question, Lou! xo Mom

  7. Came out to check my mail this morning and found our dear friends Berkley and OzGold siting on the keyboard reading your blog about Sydney. What a cheek; I suppose they want to come back to Antarctica.

  8. Oh Gordon, that made me smile! I can just imagine all of the adventures they’d get into together! Thinking back of how we first “met” through those geobears and how much fun we’ve had along the way (not to mention how many children we’ve taught along the way!) Not only do they want to come back to Antarctica, but I’m sure you would, too. Wish you were here! Safe travels north and Happy Holidays (and Happy Birthday soon!) Much Love, Betty

    • Hi Liliana and Savannah! I miss you girls! Keep on writing to me! I’m going to hold up the Husmann banner in a few more places around here, so be watching for that soon. I like McMurdo Station and I’m comfortable here, but it’s not home. I miss my family and friends and all of you at Husmann. I miss cooking, A LOT! I’ve seen some skuas, but other than those birds (and the seals) there is not that much opportunity to view wildlife. Many of the marine creatures (so I guess I have seen more….those in the aquarium here…they count) are abundant in the water below all of our ice nearby. I don’t think I’d want to scuba dive though….brrrrr…..! Lots of Love to you! xo Mrs. T

  9. Hi Mrs.Trummel! It’s Mara and Nadia from Mrs.Atkanson’s class and wanted tell you something. Did Sydney ever see the drill? Also is Sydney a doll or something else? Has the drill dug it’s hole yet? We wish you were here to finish Number the Stars with are intervention group!

    • Hi Mara and Nadia, Thanks for your note. I wish I had been there to finish Number the Stars with your group as well. Isn’t that a great book? And I like the fact that it’s based on true events. Sydney is a stuffed animal…a mouse (did you see the photos?). The hot water drill should be up and running tomorrow. There have been a few delays, which happens often down here. I miss you! Study hard and have a Happy Holiday Season!

      • Thanks we miss you and wish you were here to see us let us know about any new posts ok? Can’t wait to see you !

  10. What is the coldest it has ever been in Antarctica?
    Have you seen any animals like penguins or polar bears?
    I would love to be in Antarctica and sleep in an igloo!
    We miss you
    From Rebekah

    • Hi Rebekah, Thanks for your messages! The coldest recorded temperature in Antarctica was something like -120 degrees. It might have even been colder….I’ll have to check on that. It was recorded at Vostok Station (the Russian station) which is more in the interior part of Antarctica…far from the coast.
      I have not seen any penguins yet, and I won’t EVER see a polar bear down here….they only live in the Arctic region of the world. In fact, I’m going to write a blog on bears very soon…talking about how climate change is affecting these creatures. Look for that and keep reading my blogs! Ho, ho, HO!

    • You are welcome girls….and look for that banner around McMurdo Station….more photos coming to you very soon! 🙂

  11. the banner looks cool it must be hard for you to do so much i wish i were you keep in touch also looking forward to talk to you again looks nice out

    • I will be holding that banner in other places, Seif….watch for that in the coming days/weeks. I can’t wait to talk with the class again.

  12. hi Mrs. Trummel it is mackenzie and family here just wanted to say we miss you alot and hope you have a great week and cannot wait to see your next blog post!!! thanks for the post card!!!!! ;]

    • Hi Mackenzie! I’m glad you got the postcard….I’m starting to hear that people are getting my mail. I haven’t gotten much down here, only a couple of cards and packages, but I love getting reminders from home. I miss you a lot as well, so please stay in touch. Tell your parents I said hello. Happy Holidays and I think I’ll talk with the class this week! 🙂

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