UW team tests drill to be used in Antarctica climate studies

UW team tests drill to be used in Antarctica climate studies

Late last year, WISC-TV3 shared a story about the ice drilling design and operations group based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The group designs and maintains large drills for National Science Foundation research in Antarctica. In late 2015, they were putting the finishing touches on their agile sub-ice geological drill, also known as the ASIG drill, which will be used in climate studies.

This week, meteorologist Karin Swanson was invited to see a full test of the drill before it gets sent to Antarctica later this year.

“We have a 50-foot well filled with ice, and at the bottom, we’ve got about six feet of rock. And we’re doing testing of both configurations or both media. So we’ll go through the 50 feet of ice and then drill some rock, which represents what we’ll be doing in Antarctica,” said Chris Gibson, the engineering project manager for the ASIG drill.

The group is testing the drill rig and making sure there aren’t any problems before they get to Antarctica where resources are scarce.

“We’ll make sure it works and make sure we know how to work it,” Gibson said.

During this week’s test of the drill, the group ran into a problem with one of the parts.

“We just had this spring break, and we’re going to have to get it replaced. It won’t take too long. We’ll be back in business pretty quickly,” Gibson said.

The spring is part of the foot clamp at the base of the drill rig. It holds the drilling tubes in place, and drilling can’t continue without the spring.

“It’s just one spring, but we’ll bring plenty of spares to Antarctica,” Gibson said.

The tests are being performed with the hope of identifying any problems with the drill so they may be fixed before it gets shipped to Antarctica. Adjustments are being made daily.

“It’s minor once it’s behind you, I guess. Everything’s working now,” Gibson said.

Since there aren’t any hardware stores in Antarctica, having part of the drill break down could become a big problem. The IDDO team will continue testing until they are certain everything is working properly.

The drill is scheduled to be shipped to Antarctica in August, and will be used in West Antarctica this coming December and January.