Drilling deep for climate puzzle

Australian Antarctic Division instrument technicians are putting the finishing touches on an ice core drill ‘head’ — a key component in the future success of Australia’s Million Year Ice Core Project.

The cutting head will be critical to the ice drill’s successful operation when it descends up to 3000 metres, to extract cores from the bottom of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Chemical information in the ice, and trapped in air bubbles in the ice, will provide a window into a period in history when the Earth’s climate shifted from a 40,000 year cycle of recurring ice ages to one every 100,000 years (Australian Antarctic Magazine 33: 6, 2017).

While scientists don’t know what caused this shift, an ice core spanning this period will allow them to extract a direct record of carbon dioxide to see what role, if any, it may have played.

Construction of the cutting head began in March. The full nine-metre drill is being developed using European and US designs, together with Australian innovation and technology development.

The drill is machined from specialised stainless steel, aluminium, bronze and titanium. It will be able to extract cores up to three metres at a time.

Scientists will use the drill at a remote field camp, about 1200 kilometres inland from Casey research station, over a four year period from 2021.

Corporate Communications