A WISSARD Science Update

A WISSARD Science Update

Check out this funny picture/caption that local McMurdo  “resident” Matt Davidson created for his weekly cartoon.   People around here can’t figure out what WISSARD stands for, how to pronounce it, and/or how to spell it.  Crazy!  WISSARD = Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling Matt has given me permission to use some of his cartoons in my blog.  He is SO talented…and creative….and funny! I have come to look forward to his new cartoon each week!  He’s even got a collection of favorites in a book called Freeze Frames which is all about life in McMurdo or other places in Antarctica.  I purchased a copy in the McMurdo gift shop.  Yes, we have a little “store” with gifts, supplies, movies to borrow, etc.  Enjoy this WISSARD cartoon!



(Photo by Chad Carpenter)

When WISSARD Lead Scientist Slawek Tulaczyk and his team flew out to the SLW field camp last week on a ski-equipped Hercules, they hit the ground (ice) running.  Behind schedule due to many weather delays, Slawek and his team wanted to get busy on their GPS and seismic work in the field.  Supplies were unloaded, sleds were packed, and snowmobiles were made ready to head out on day trips in the area surrounding the SLW camp.  The photo below shows Slawek arriving at the SLW site.


(Photo:  Chad Carpenter)


(Photo: Chad Carpenter)

It’s awesome how the pallets of cargo are slid onto the ice and team sorted through them to get the field supplies ready to go.  No time was wasted…every day in the field is a precious thing right now.


(Photo:  Chad Carpenter)


(Photo:  Grace Barcheck)

Equipment is packed and ready to go on a sled.


(Photo:  Dan Sampson)


(Photo:  Dan Sampson)


(Photo:  Matt Siegfried)

Look at how lonely those red jackets look against the stark white background of the Ross Ice Shelf.  Everyone stays busy setting up the GPS and seismic units.


(Photo:  Matt Siegfried)

It’s a lot of hard work out in the field, but I think it would be cool to place these stations and gather the data.


(Photo:  Matt Siegfried)


(Photo:  Matt Siegfried)

Grace is putting on the last bit of equipment in the photo above.  Notice the solar panels that will help run the equipment.  There is a computer and other equipment inside of the gray container.  In the photo below Matt is working on that computer and equipment, preparing it to run on its own once the scientists leave the area.


(Photo:  Doug Fox)

Meanwhile, Dan was busy putting in a seismic unit.  They are buried in the snow and will record the activity/ movement of the ice.


(Photo:  Grace Barcheck)

Grace was busy setting up another seismic unit right in the SLW camp.  It is located behind the rac tent.  It will pick up movement and activity close to the borehole.  Scientists know that the ice slips in a halting movement each day….not a smooth process.  They want to learn more about this activity to better prepare for launching their instruments into the borehole.  Sudden movement could produce a shift in the ice that could cause longer instruments to get stuck in the hole.


(Photo:  Doug Fox)

While Slawek and his team were busy in the field, the drillers and scientists were busy in the field camp.  Whether it was setting up the hot water drilling system, preparing labs for scientific work, or deploying instruments down the borehole, the SLW site was buzzing with activity.


(Photo:  Grace Barcheck)


(Photo:  Reed Scherer)

The drilling deck was set up and the hose threaded over the crescent to prepare for hot water drilling.


(Photo:  Reed Scherer)

Lots of snow needed to be emptied into the melter to make the hot water for the drilling process.


(Photo:  Chad Carpenter)

In many instances, scientists like Jill, pitched in to do anything they could to help…in this case pushing snow into the melter.


(Photo:  Chad Carpenter)

Mike was busy setting up inside the NIU container which houses the POP and instruments which will collect sediments.  That gantry crane (below) will help lift the instruments, as shown in the second photo below.


(Photo:  Chad Carpenter)


(Photo:  Betty Trummel)

Andy (front) and Mark (background) were preparing in their lab…


(Photo:  Carolo Barbante)

…while Tristy and Amanda were setting up the chem lab to be ready to receive a Niskin bottle, which would contain a water sample.

chem lab set up to receive a niskin bottle

Amanda (left) and Tristy are in their clean suits, ready to receive the Niskin bottles in a clean environment.

tristy and amanda ready to receive niskin bottle in chem lab

(Photo:  Tristy Vick-Major)

Brent and John are deploying the Niskin for a borehole “cast” (to send it down the hole).  A Niskin bottle is about a meter long and it’s a gray tube to collect water samples. 

brent and john deploying the niskin for a borehole cast

(Photo:  Tristy Vick-Major)

Italian scientist Carlo Barbante designed this wonderful animation to show how the drilling system is set up and how it works.  I took a screen shot of one page of his presentation, to give you a better idea of the system.  Thanks to Carlo for sharing this wonderful diagram. 

Carlo's Animation

You can see the tractor shoveling snow into the melter to make the hot water for the drilling (far right).  The water travels through the hose which is fed over the crescent and comes down toward the hole and is filtered through the UV collar.  There is one hole that is part way down through the ice, which is the return water flow.  As you can see, the other hole (the borehole where instruments are deployed) goes all the way to the lake water. You can see the bottom of the lake (brown).  Of course it is all much more complicated than that, but the diagram makes it easier to understand.


(Photo:  Grace Barcheck)

The “mothership” is deployed down the hole, to give live action video footage of what the hole looks like.  The mothership was used to provide confirmation that they had drilled to Lake Whillans.  In this photo scientists stand by the borehole to see how things are going.  The information they gathered suggests that the lake is very shallow in this location, only about 1-1.5 meters deep.  The camera on the mothership wound up going into the lake bottom due to poor visibility below 600 meters down the hole.  The initial rush of water into the hole had sucked fine sediments upwards, which made is hard for the camera to see.  During this process the drill head came up with some sediment on the top of it, which could indicate that the drill head went into the sediment (unintentionally…they weren’t trying to do this).

Having a live-feed downhole camera was noted to be absolutely essential.  It can help guide efforts in retracting the hose to clear the hole for deployment of tools and instruments, as well as give scientists that first look down the borehole.


(Photo:  Doug Fox)

Other scientists were watching computer screens from inside the command and control container.

In the blog from yesterday I wrote about the deployment of the POP and how the winch malfunctioned, make it necessary for the POP to be brought back up out of the borehole. The large winch’s significant problems also affected deployment of the hammer core.  That instrument reached about 400 meters before having to be pulled out.  Work continues on trying to repair the winch, but at this point smaller tools have had priority.

The multi-corer had to be pulled out on the first deployment because the hole had become too narrow to allow science tools into the lake.   This was about 42 hours since first breaking through to the lake.  The place where it became constricted (narrow) was at 770 meters, which is the level to which lake water initially upwelled into the borehole.  The colder lake water displaced the warmer drill water by pushing it farther up the hole.  Consequently, this section had been re-freezing at a faster rate.  

After 24 hours or so of reaming (remelting) the multi-corer was deployed today and scientists were able to collect seven “core” samples.  Many of those samples are soupy, not a firm core, but scientists can certainly use these sediment samples.  Science work continues overnight tonight and I’ll have more news to report tomorrow.
As Emily told me today, “That borehole, a lot of interesting things are happening down there.

I want to leave you with this great photo by Matt Siegfried.  It reminds me that we need to focus on even the tiniest things in nature, such as a single snowflake…which is beautiful.  He captured some perfect snowflakes on someone’s Big Red!  Enjoy those simple things in nature!  Have a great day!



4 responses to “A WISSARD Science Update

  1. Wow – what a blog. I’m not sure what item was more fascinating,…the cartoon, the scientists and experiements, or the single snowflake. The snowflake is simply beautiful. Enjoy your late evening time. LIOB!

  2. Betty thank you again for all the wonderful photos and commentary. It has opened an entire new world to me. Antarctica is a place I didn’t think of often before but do now and look forward to all your posts. Please give my best regards to everyone who is down there working on this project. It is fascinating to see their dedication in action. Your photos are amazing and of course the penguin in the earlier one today was great.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s