Monday, November 10, 2008

A bit stuck

I've been away from blogging for a few days, and here's the culprit: a stuck drill bit, as shown underfoot by Steve Clabuesch. Unexpected problems like this are expected to happen in Antarctica. 

Over the past few days, we have been trying to establish a dive hole near the Herbertson Glacier. Although still within the New Harbor area, this site is very different from Explorers Cove in terms of the amount of sediment deposited from the Taylor Dry Valley; this makes it an important comparative sampling station.

It's about an hour away by snowmobile, and we must travel across some fairly bumpy sea ice to get there. We blazed a trail, set up a small shore camp, and moved the "Hotsy" hole melter to the site. As with blasting a dive hole, the first step is to drill a 5-inch (12.7-centimeter) diameter pilot hole through the sea ice. The next step is to insert a "hot finger" (a cylinder of tightly-wound metal tubing) which is heated by a diesel-fueled burner; this device melts the ice and creates a dive hole within a day or two.

We only got to step one. About 15-feet (3 meters) down, the drill bit hit water and instantly froze solid. This never happens in Explorers Cove, but it has happened to us several times over the past few seasons working in the Ferrar Glacier fjord. I'm not sure why ... perhaps there is super-cooled glacier water just under the ice? One thing is for sure: it will take a bit more skill to make this hole. I'll let you know how it goes...

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