Subglacial lake Ellsworth : Mission called off for this season

Published on 29.01.2013 - Subglacial Lake Ellsworth (British scientists & engineers)

Despite the decision to stop the drilling, project manager said he is confident to pursue the job for the coming seasons

Despite the decision to stop the drilling, project manager said he is confident to pursue the job for the coming seasons

© Expedition website

According to the british researchers in charge of the project "Subglacial Lake Ellsworth", circumstances have not worked out as they would have wished ; therefore they took the decision to stop the drilling. For the time being.

Excerpts from Press Dossier : Tuesday 25 December 2012, Professor Martin Siegert, Principal Investigator of the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth experiment, confirmed that the mission to drill into the lake has been called off for this Antarctic season.  Drilling was proceeding well during the weekend after a replacement part was fitted to the boiler used to heat water for drilling.  Drilling stopped after the team was unable to form properly the water-filled cavity 300 metres beneath the ice. This cavity was to link the main borehole with a secondary borehole used to recirculate drilling water back to the surface. 

Professor Siegert said : “... Although circumstances have not worked out as we would have wished, I am confident that through the huge efforts of the field team, and our colleagues in the UK, we have done as much as we possibly could have done, and I sincerely thank them all. I am also hugely grateful to the UK Natural Environment Research Council for making it possible for us to attempt the direct exploration of subglacial Antarctica. Sixteen years ago, we hypothesised that deep-water subglacial lakes are viable habitats for life, and contain important records of ice and climate history. For now, these hypotheses remain untested. Once back in the UK I will gather our consortium to seek ways in which our research efforts may continue. I remain confident that we will unlock the secrets of Lake Ellsworth in coming seasons.”

The first borehole was drilled to a depth of 300m and then left at that depth for 12 hours to create the cavity. The second, main borehole (located 2m away from the first) was then drilled to 300m depth and should have immediately connected with this cavity.  This main borehole would then continue through the cavity and down to the lake while the first borehole would be used to recirculate water back to the surface using a submersible pump.  In this way, the ice cavity can be used to balance the level of water in the boreholes and hence balance the pressure from the lake upon breakthrough.

Continue reading on the official website of the project.

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