ANDRILL Project Advances in Antarctica


By Nick Mott
Winter 2011

Researcher Claude Laird sits inside the PistenBully, a red box on treads that resembles an Antarctic tractor, gripping his seat as it moves unsteadily forward. The wind howls, and outside he can see only pure, blinding white. His eyes are glued to the radar screen, searching out sharp edges in range hyperbolas that could reveal a dangerous crevasse just below the surface.

Laird travelled to Antarctica to participate in the Coulman High Project, a part of the multinational, multi-institutional Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) effort. By collecting deep ocean sediment samples from below the Ross Ice Shelf, the project seeks to characterize the climate and behavior of ice sheets in periods of high greenhouse gases, particularly a period roughly 20-40 million years ago.


Photo 1: Massive snowy mountains, Mount Erebus (left) and Mount Terror (right), overlook ANDRILL researchers as they work their way across the Ross Ice Shelf.

With a ground penetrating radar (GPR) fastened to a boom jutting off the front of the PistenBully, Laird contributed to the project by using radars to monitor ice conditions just below the surface to detect crevasses and ensure a safe route to traverse the heavy drill equipment. “This is where CReSIS comes in,” Laird said. “They need to understand the structure of the ice shelf. They need to make sure there’s no crevassing.”

Laird found little significant crevassing and was happy with the results of the expedition. A safe route for a traverse to the main Coulman High site was established.

ANDRILL is a collaboration composed of more than 200 individuals from Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. At Coulman High, those involved in the ANDRILL project plan to utilize a massive hot water drill to melt through 250 meters of ice and extend a drill beyond the ice and into the sea floor below. By examining past climate conditions revealed by the sediment cores, ANDRILL researchers will better understand the range of possible future conditions that accompany a changing climate.

The main phase of the project is slated to begin in 2013 or 2014.


Photo 2: ANDRILL camp photo. Left to right: Frank Rack, Daren Blythe, Richard Levy, Dar Gibson, Graham Roberts, Claude Laird, Jeremy (JR) Ridgen, Hedley Berge, Tamsin Falconer, and Tristen Bennet.