Another success for SSEC’s ice drillers

The Ice Drilling Design and Operations (IDDO) group at UW-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center has provided the ice coring drill and ice core recovery services to support a new study that reveals a consistent link between past abrupt temperature changes in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Reaching a final and U.S. record depth of 3,405 meters in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, drilling of the main core began during the 2006-2007 field season and was completed during the 2011-2012 field season.

IDDO Program Director Kristina Slawny explains that the high ice accumulation site was carefully selected to capture the highest resolution record of Antarctic climate. The IDDO-designed U.S. Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) drill was used to extract the pristine core.

Oregon State University’s Christo Buizert, lead author on the study published this week in Nature, says that analysis of the ice core from West Antarctica helps explain the interactions of climate changes in the northern and southern hemispheres – showing how past climate changes that started in the Arctic propagated all the way to Antarctica.

This is just one in a line of successes demonstrating the experience of the IDDO team – as recently as last fall, their ice coring expertise supported another climate study published in Nature.

The following slideshow comprises photos of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core project compiled by the U.S. Ice Drilling Program.

  • Slide 0

    The galley at West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide on December 6, 2008.

    Credit: Kendrick Taylor, Desert Research Institute.

  • Slide 1

    Morning clouds over WAIS Tent City.

    Credit: Spruce Schoenemann, University of Washington.

  • Slide 2

    Satellite view of WAIS Divide on October 7, 2010, as acquired by the DigitalGlobe constellation of high-resolution satellites.

    Credit: Polar Geospatial Center, University of Minnesota.

  • Slide 3

    Kristina Slawny and Jay Johnson, heads of the Ice Drill and Design Operations (IDDO) group at UW-Madison and the lead drillers for WAIS Divide, stand next to the Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) Drill in 2011.

    Credit: Jay Johnson, SSEC.

  • Slide 4

    The DISC Drill is an electromechanical drill designed to cut and retrieve cores of ice 122 mm in diameter to depths of 4,000 meters.

    Credit: Kendrick Taylor, Desert Research Institute.

  • Slide 5

    Inside the control room for the DISC Drill.

    Credit: Kendrick Taylor, Desert Research Institute.

  • Slide 6

    Tilting the tower of the DISC Drill on January 20, 2011.

    Credit: Jay Johnson, SSEC.

  • Slide 7

    IDDO designed and built the South Pole Ice Core (SPICE) drilling system, called the Intermediate Depth Drill (IDD). Based on a Danish drill called the Hans-Taunsen drill, the IDD was purpose-built for coring 1,500 meters of ice.

    Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation.

  • Slide 8

    A close-up of an ice core still in the IDD drill barrel. South Pole Ice Core (SPICE) will drill to a depth of 1,500 meters, collecting atmospheric gases from 40,000 years ago, the time of transition from the last Ice Age to the current climate. The project is part of a global effort to collect ice from this same time period around the world.

    Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation.

  • Slide 9

    A science team member prepares to extract an ice core from the IDD drill.

    Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation.

  • Slide 10

    The core handling side of the arch facility at WAIS Divide on January 19, 2009. This side of the arch facility is kept below -25 degrees Celsius. The drilling of the ice core takes place behind the wall in the background.

    Credit: Chad Naughton, National Science Foundation/Antarctic Photo Library.

  • Slide 11

    A researcher examines layers in a snow pit deposited by different storms.

    Credit: Kendrick Taylor, Desert Research Institute.

  • Slide 12

    Ice cores wintering over in the core processing arch basement.

    Credit: Spruce Schoenemann, University of Washington.

  • Slide 13

    A researcher examines a “cloudy layer” within an ice core.

    Credit: Gifford Wong, Dartmouth College.

  • Slide 14

    A unique cloudy layer within the ice, demonstrating mini z-folds.

    Credit: Gifford Wong, Dartmouth College.

  • Slide 15

    At a laboratory in the U.S. in 2008, an ice core sample melts under vacuum to release the ancient air bubbles for isotopic analysis.

    Credit: Anais Orsi, UC San Diego.

  • Slide 16

    A horizontal thin section from 400 meters depth in the WAIS Divide ice core. Under cross-polarized light, the section shows the size, shape, and orientation of individual ice crystals. The different colors are due to the different orientations of the crystals, and the small circles are entrapped atmospheric air bubbles. These samples of ancient air provide scientists and policymakers with direct evidence of past atmospheric composition.

    Credit: John Fegyveresi, Penn State University.

  • Slide 17

    Horizontal bubble section from 400 meters depth in the WAIS Divide ice core, showing entrapped atmospheric air bubbles.

    Credit: John Fegyveresi, Penn State University.

  • Slide 18

    A softball game during a beautiful day at WAIS Divide in 2011.

    Credit: Jay Johnson, SSEC.

  • Slide 19

    The WAIS Divide project completed major coring operations on January 28, 2011, after five years of work, reaching a target depth of 3,331 meters — the deepest U.S. ice core ever drilled and the second deepest ice core ever collected.

    Credit: Jay Johnson, SSEC.