Arctic drilling lessons for the Antarctic

United States LC130 Hercules dropping personnel and cargo off at the NEEM remote field camp (Photo: Andrew Moy)
United States LC130 Hercules dropping personnel and cargo off at the NEEM remote field camp (Photo: Andrew Moy)
The main dome of the NEEM camp (Photo: Andrew Moy)Some of the accommodation tents at the field camp (Photo: Andrew Moy)Ice core drilling using the Danish designed and built Han Tausen Ice Core drill (Photo: Andrew Moy)Recovering an ice core (Photo: Antje Fitzner)Dr Andrew Moy preparing the drill to collect another ice core (Photo: Joe McConnell)Inside the deep drilling trench where a core of over 2.5 kilometres has been recovered (Photo: Andrew Moy)The Continuous Flow Analysis system in the Laboratory (Photo: Andrew Moy)

Glaciologists from the Australian Antarctic Division have recently returned from the Greenland ice sheet, where they were involved in the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) project.

The NEEM project started in 2007 with the aim of drilling a deep ice core through the north-west Greenland ice sheet to retrieve ice from the previous interglacial period, the Eemian, which ended about 115,000 years ago.

“The ice core samples will help scientists better understand and predict future climate change as atmospheric conditions during the Eemian age were similar to the present day temperature patterns,” Dr Moy said.

A range of studies are being undertaken within the NEEM project including the main deep ice core drilling program, testing the capabilities of a newly modified ice core drill and obtaining a 400m record of ice specifically for trace element and black carbon analysis.

“During my 8 week stay we drilled a 411 metre ice core, which was a real challenge due to numerous mechanical issues and warm conditions preventing us from drilling for a couple of days. It was really beneficial for me to be able to learn more about ice core drilling from leading experts in the field,” he said.

Dr Moy also experienced the NEEM ice core trench and the ice core analytical laboratories set up in the remote field camp.

“The ice core trench is where the main 2.5 kilometre deep ice core has recently been recovered after nearly 4 years of drilling,” Dr Moy said.

“There’s also world-class analytical laboratories in the camp, allowing scientists to melt the ice cores in situ and measure a suite of chemical and physical properties of the ice – providing immediate feedback on climate information contained within the ice.”

The laboratories are contained within the ice sheet itself, with the science trench measuring about 50 metres long by 5 metres wide and 10 metres deep.

“The temperature in the trench remains at a constant minus 20 degree due to the thermal mass of the ice. While this is optimum for processing ice cores, it means the scientists get cold quickly and have to rotate through the trench on a regular basis to keep warm!”

Dr Curran spent time at the NEEM camp in 2007 and 2009, assisting with building the camp itself and setting up the deep ice core drill.

“It was a huge learning curve being a ‘carpenters apprentice’ and ice core driller in my first season – obtaining skills I didn’t think I would need in the pursuit of this particular brand of science”.

Dr Moy and Dr Curran will use the skills learnt on the drilling project in a proposed new Australian-led study planned for Aurora Basin in Antarctica in 2013-14.

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