Construction begins on million year ice core drill

Two instrument technicians at a metal lathe.
Instrument technician, Chris Richards (left), and Million Year Ice Core Project Lead, Tim Lyons, begin fabrication of the ice core drill head at the Australian Antarctic Division. (Photo: Simon Payne)

Engineers at the Australian Antarctic Division have begun work on a drill head for a high-tech ice drill that Antarctic scientists will deploy in their quest for a million year ice core.

The drill head is the first in a series of components that will be machined and assembled at the Division, with input from other polar programs. The component is critical to the ice drill’s stability as it descends up to 3000 metres into the ice.

Million Year Ice Core Project Lead, Tim Lyons, said the drill will operate for months at a time, in temperatures below -30°C, which means reliability and precision are key.

“Our aim is to produce a drill that can recover high quality ice cores day after day, and hopefully reach the bottom of Antarctic ice sheet over a four-to-five year period,” Mr Lyons said.

“It’s not something you can just buy off the shelf, but we are fortunate to have a team of skilled people to machine and fabricate it here at the Australian Antarctic Division.

“The international ice drilling community also shares designs and techniques, and we are building on and sharing our experiences with other drilling nations.”

Atmospheric information contained in the ice core samples will provide a window into a period in history when a major shift took place in the Earth’s climate system, and when the regular pacing ice ages gradually slowed (see Australian Antarctic Magazine 33: 6, 2017).

David Reilly
Australian Antarctic Division