Giant drill to retrieve million-year Antarctic ice core

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday September 29, 2021

Australia’s Antarctic Division has completed the build of a 400-kilogram drill that will extract a scientifically significant ice core in Antarctica.
Australia’s Antarctic Division has completed the build of a 400-kilogram drill that will extract a scientifically significant ice core in Antarctica. (Supplied)

Engineers from Australia’s Antarctic Division (AAD) have completed a two-year project to build a 400-kilogram drill that will be able to extract a scientifically significant ice core in Antarctica.

The drill, which has a 10 metre stainless-steel head that is capable of operating in temperatures 55 degrees below zero, was designed and built in Tasmania. It will be used by the AAD in a project to extract the world’s oldest continuous ice core from the Antarctic ice cap in what has been called the ‘grand challenge of climate science’.

Scientists will analyse one million-year-old bubbles contained in the ice core dating as far back as one million years, and use data from the samples to have a ‘snapshot of the atmosphere’ from the past.

Environment minister Sussan Ley said the unveiling of the drill in Hobart on Tuesday was a huge milestone for the engineers and scientists involved in the ‘cutting edge’ project.

“To deliver the world’s oldest ice core, teams will traverse 1,300 kilometres of the Antarctic to the site at ‘Little Dome C’ and then drill for several summer seasons through 2,800 metres of ice in some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth,” Ley said.

“This is a modern-day Antarctic adventure that conjures all the images of legendary Antarctic exploration and which by around 2025 will contribute greatly to knowledge about our climate and our future.”

The minister explained that the drill would now be tested to watch its performance boring into specially prepared blocks of ice. It has taken more than two months to prepare the half-tonne ice blocks, she said, with engineers adding small amounts of water each day to replicate the copy Antarctic conditions to properly test the equipment. 

“Australia’s role in global climate research is incredibly significant and this project is at the absolute cutting edge, globally,” Ley said.

“We hope this information will help us understand more about climate changes of the past and long-term climate impacts.”


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