Meet the WISSARD Drilling Team
STUDENTS, READ CAREFULLY…think about how you might like to be a part of team like this in the future!
Many jobs here support the scientists in their research. Without the technical and mechanical expertise (knowledge) of teams such as our drillers, projects in places like Antarctica would not be the same. Scientists on our project need the skills of the drillers to help them reach their science goals. The two groups work together to conduct research. Scientists have the expertise in their fields of study, and all of these STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers are awesome! See how they blend together to reach a common goal.
The primary scientific goals of the WISSARD Project are to access (reach) the subglacial environments beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet by using a specially designed hot water drill system (HWD) to melt through the ice. With this HWD drill system, it is possible to access subglacial and sub-ice shelf environments through ice of up to about 1,000 meters thick. We need the drillers to execute (run) this part of our project.
The WISSARD drilling team is a highly skilled group who bring a wealth of technical and mechanical knowledge to our project. Many of the members of the team have years of experience working in the remote and often challenging Antarctic environment. As the traverse team approaches the Subglacial Lake Whillans field site, I wanted to take time today to introduce the drilling team for the WISSARD Project.
Dr Frank Rack is the PI and Executive Director of the ANDRILL Science Management Office, and an Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Frank was instrumental is the development of the hot water drill system used for the WISSARD Project, and for assembling the team of drillers who not only worked on developing this system, but the testing and deployment of the HWD system in Antarctica this season.
Dennis Duling is the Chief Driller for the HWDS. He is in charge of all operational aspects of the hot water drill system. This is Dennis’ 10th season working on the ice, seven of those with the IceCube Project at the South Pole. But, his experience in cold places did not begin here in Antarctica…it began in Greenland. In 1999 Dennis traveled to Summit Station, Greenland to (as he says) “lift a building buried in the snow.” Summit Station is a year-round research station on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The “Big House,” which is the main administration building at Summit Station, has an elevated design. On four occasions it has been lifted up to maintain distance between the building and drifting snow.
Another cold weather experience was working in Toolik Field Station in Alaska, constructing the science labs. Dennis moved to the WISSARD Project to be part of the hot water drilling design and implementation. He says that one thing he enjoys about this sort of work is that “It’s great….it has definition. It has a beginning and a set of goals, and an end. It makes a wonderful way to measure your working life. It has challenges, but when the team does their job, and if we drill into the lake and are successful, there is no better feeling. We built it, executed the plan and we know what we did. It’s a great feeling. Not many jobs offer this on this planet.”
Dennis has always worked in jobs that involved technical experience. He has always liked mechanical things and he said that growing up a farm it was sort of required. When he was young he liked steam engines, things with noise, and big wheels that would spin. Looks like all of that was good preparation for his work experiences. His message to students: “Kids, if you want to do it, you CAN do it!”
Chad Carpenter is a driller and electrician for the WISSARD team. He has been doing electrical work since 1993 and is a licensed electrician in Texas. He had summer jobs as an electrical apprentice while going to college. Chad works on the electrical and electronic control systems of the WISSARD hot water drilling system. He also works with the generators that run the system.
Chad says he likes construction and engineering…big construction projects. He always wanted to be an engineer and build things. He has spent 12 seasons on the ice; six winters (2 at the South Pole and 4 in McMurdo) and six summers (4 at the South Pole and 2 in McMurdo). One of his projects in McMurdo was to help build the waste-water treatment plant. Chad also worked for several years on the IceCube Project at the South Pole.
When I asked Chad what he liked about working in Antarctica he said, “I always think it feels like you are part of something important. There’s a purpose to the job and it’s really rewarding. You are part of a team…you matter. I don’t want to go to a job to ‘go to work and pay the bills.’ There are a LOT of sacrifices to do something like this…rearrange your whole life.”
Dar Gibson grew up with an explorer’s instinct. He remembers that when he was in the 9th grade his dad gave him a copy of a book written about Ernest Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition. That book opened a door to learning more about adventure and challenges. Dar’s dad was also interested in polar expeditions, and he was quite fascinated with Admiral Richard Byrd.
Dar’s parents were globetrotters, traveling and working all over the world. His parents both had a bit of a science background; his dad was a horticulturalist and his mom was a a nurse. They brought Dar and his siblings along on their journeys and Dar lived many places growing up, including nine years in Saudia Arabia. It is no surprise that Dar ended up working here in Antarctica. He followed the adventure in his parents’ footsteps.
After Dar got his undergraduate degree in geography and geology from the University of Montana in Missoula, he had an internship during the winter at the Mt. Washington Observatory in Hew Hampshire. It was there that he met people who had been involved in Antarctic research. The door was opened again.
The first time Dar came to Antarctica, in 1998, he wintered over at the South Pole doing work in meteorology. He alternated winter/summer seasons for a couple of rotations, and met Daren Blythe when they both wintered over in 2001-2002. Dar worked as a driller for the IceCube Project for five seasons. When he left that project ANDRILL was searching for drillers for the Coulman High Project site survey season. Dar made the transition to Nebraska was later hired on full time for the WISSARD Project. This season marks his 12th season working in Antarctica.
Dar is interested in why people come here to work. For him, it seems natural, given the way he was brought up. We talked about how different it is for others who come from a more traditional upbringing or life back home. It is also very interesting to me what draws people to this place…for work, for discovery, for learning, for adventure. Dar takes classes and does things to follow his interests. He says, “Whatever you are interested in, follow it!” It seems to me that Dar will always be traveling and learning.
Daren Blythe also brings a lot of Antarctic experience to the WISSARD drilling team. He is very involved in the water supply of the drill system because he was a part of building that aspect of the drill. Daren tends to do more of that part of the project…working with the melter, tank, and distribution of the water. The photo below shows Daren (background) and Dar (foreground) shoveling snow into the melter.
Daren got his undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Virginia. His master’s degree from Clemson is also in Physics. Right out of college he worked for a defense contractor doing computer programming, and later did the same sort of job as a civilian employee of the Navy. He applied for jobs with the U.S. Antarctic Program (Antarctic Support Associates was the contractor at the time) for several year before getting hired on to winter out at the South Pole as a science technician. He stumbled on the Antarctic job by accident and then realized it was the type of job he’d been looking for his whole life. When he saw the advertisement for the South Pole science tech job, he said, “that’s what I want to do.” He says his career has been a blend of many jobs involving industrial physics. He’s been a technician involved with many different projects in both Antarctica and the Arctic. He once spent about a year working at the NOAA Climate Observatory in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States.
Daren worked at the South Pole with the IceCube Project for several years, working with Dennis and Dar on that project. That’s how they got into hot water drilling. At that point Daren had moved to Nebraska and learned more about the ANDRILL Project based in Lincoln. He applied for a job and became part of the ANDRILL Coulman High Project site survey team in 2010-2011. WISSARD was a natural progression, given all of Daren’s experience with hot water drilling.
Daren’s career has been filled with twists and turns. He says, “Persevere….never assume that there’s not something out there for you. Never stop looking! You just don’t know; the Antarctic programs changed my life. There’s probably not one job you’ll stick with for the rest of your life.” But, as Daren commented, “Looking back, the dreams and ideas you have as a little kid…the people who can hold onto those ideas tend to be happier later in life. As an adult you tend to discount the importance of what you thought as a child, because you were a child and you didn’t know how the world works. When I was a child I saw myself doing something like this…being some kind of a field scientist. If I hadn’t had those ideas as a kid, I would not have made the connections I did later on. The kid I was would be pretty stoked to see what I am doing now!”
Graham Roberts, (green shirt in photo above), got some of his inspiration for working in Antarctica from his mother, Jean Pennycook. Do you remember Jean who works with the penguins at Cape Royds? That’s Graham’s mom. She shared the sense of adventure Antarctica had brought to her life, and Graham was drawn to that and the ability to travel after each season on the ice.
Graham was more of an athlete in school, playing baseball, water polo, and other sports growing up. He didn’t really take things apart (like many of the drillers on the team), but when things broke he wanted to fix them. When he went to the University of California at Davis, he selected mechanical engineering as a major because he thought it would give him good basic skills to use in today’s job market. After college, Graham applied to the IceCube Project and on the third attempt was selected as an alternate. By that time he had decided to apply for a job with ANDRILL instead.
Graham was part of the Coulman High Project site surveys in 2010-2011, and is here with WISSARD on the drilling team. His work focuses on the high pressure manifolds which carry the water to the hot water drill system. He built most of them as part of the hot water drill project. He’s also worked on the valves that route the water the correct way and modifying the hose reels.
His favorite thing about WISSARD: ” I like that you are given a task and take that problem from start to finish. Assess, design a solution, build a solution and work for the entire design. You are part of the full spectrum of the process. I also like the sense of adventure and the good people.”
Jeff Lemery has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. After college he worked in Boston for Advanced Mechanical Technology, Inc. They make multi-access load cells which measure the force in several directions at once. The company also makes other instruments. Later Jeff moved to Blue Fin Robotics where they make submersible remotely operated vehicles (ROV’s); unmanned subs.
Jeff heard about the U.S. Antarctic Program back in 2008 and applied for many different positions to work in Antarctica. He found out about ANDRILL and WISSARD from a friend who worked on the IceCube Project. Jeff was hired on as part of a roving drill project with ANDRILL. This roving drill would be more mobile, smaller, and easier to deploy in the field. Jeff ended up being added to the WISSARD drilling crew.
One of Jeff’s jobs with the drilling is the hose washing system. The idea behind this system is to clean off all of the frozen contamination on the hose before it goes through the UV collar. Jeff also works on routing the hose out of the traction device and over the crescent that guides the hose to the drill.
Going into engineering was a natural progression for Jeff. One of his memories as a kid was when his parents took him to a motorcycle dealership. He always liked dirt bikes, lawnmowers, and other small machines. He is still into machines and has a race car he’s been building for several years.
One comment Jeff made which I agree with is that technical high schools should raise their standards so students can go a high level technical path with hands on classes and still go on to college. Getting a good mixture of hands on experience and technical classes is not an option for all students. It’s either one or the other…that’s why hobbies often substitute for that.
One thing Jeff would tell students, “It’s okay to do something that isn’t the standard practice. Knowing all that is going on down here (the ice) changed things. Having this option saved my faith in engineering. Living an adventurous life turned into ice drilling.”
Justin Burnett also has a degree in mechanical engineering, but from Gonzaga University in Washington State. He says, “I’ve known I was going to do engineering forever, like since birth. I worked on cars with my dad. Garage time was a big thing growing up. I mostly wanted to take things apart and I wanted to know how they worked.” He says his parents would often find things taken apart in their basement. I can relate, because I I have a son like that.
After Justin completed college, entry level engineering positions were few and far between. He could have squeezed in doing a job he really didn’t want to do, but instead took an unpaid internship to work on a project called SCINI at Moss Landing Marine Labs in Monterey, California. Through his work at SCINI he found out more about projects taking place in Antarctica.
SCINI is another ROV; a narrow-bodied, torpedo-shaped instrument that fits through a hole made with a small drill called a jiffy drill. SCINI is designed to be low cost, and rapidly deployable with minimal (fewer) tools and logistics. When he was working on SCINI, they were building a new version of this instrument that ANDRILL could use to support their drilling operations. That’s how Justin learned about Frank and the ANDRILL Science Management Office, as well as WISSARD.
Justin works on the control systems for the hot water drilling. This includes sensors, instrumentation, and motor drives of the drilling system.
His message to students: “Tinker with things and wonder and think about what goes on behind the scenes. Question reality constantly. “ Justin mentioned that we need to keep creativity in school programs. I certainly agree with that! Science, technology, and engineering are creative ways of making discoveries, solving problems, and exploring our world.
Robin Bolsey is a Senior Instrumentation Specialist for the WISSARD Project. He is associated with the team from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Robin has lost track of how many seasons he’s been on the ice…he thinks possibly 15 seasons counting this year.
Robin has always been on the technical side of the science research, but close to the science to understand what the needs are. He’s worked on the California Tech drill system as well as other systems with the Ice Coring and Drilling Services group at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
When with Cal Tech from 1991-2002, Robin worked on upgrading and maintaining the hot water drill system they had. It used a small amount of heat to access the glaciers. They put thing in the ice, but didn’t always go to the bottom of the ice. As part of the Cal Tech program, Robin was involved with the drilling and the science side. The team didn’t drill every year, but they came to Antarctica every year. Sometimes they did surveying work for future projects. Often they tracked how the ice was moving.
From 2003-2010 Robin worked for the University of Wisconsin. Part of his job involved working on the IceCube Project, but there were lots of other projects which serviced and supported drilling efforts. He always focused on the technical aspects of drilling. He wanted to improve the technology — reduce the weight, make it faster and easier.
Other jobs earlier in his career included part time work for the Planetary Society, being a flight instructor, and freelance mechanical work. He owned a moped shop in Boston in the late 1970’s. Robin has always liked to fiddle with things and take them apart. He says that’s absolutely what he did as a kid.
Robin says people should, “Stay in tune with the real world in order to understand it.” He commented that this would not be through texting, or video games.
Our team of drillers is a talented group, with diverse backgrounds, and motivation to get the job done. They are part of the STEM network, and combined with the WISSARD scientists, this makes a great team effort! It was great to hear their stories today. Now it’s on to Lake Whillans and let’s get the drilling started again! Stay tuned for another WISSARD update.