The Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has signed cooperative agreements – one with a university collaboration between Dartmouth College, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the other with the University of Wisconsin-Madison alone – that together create two new entities to support, advise and conduct ice coring and drilling used in polar research.
The cooperative agreement will create an Ice Drilling Program Office
(IDPO) at Dartmouth College coordinated by Mary Albert, visiting professor of
engineering at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, with collaborations at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of New Hampshire. The
IDPO will provide scientific leadership and oversight of ice coring and
drilling activities funded by NSF. Officials say the new collaboration will
encourage innovation in ice-core drilling technologies, while better serving
the glaciological community's evolving needs.
The IDPO also will oversee the second entity, the Ice Drilling Design
and Operations Group (IDDOG), led by Charles Bentley, emeritus professor of geophysics
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as it works to provide engineering
design and construction support for new drilling systems. IDDOG also will
support the operation and maintenance of existing drilling systems.
The two new entities will replace the existing operation run by the Ice
Coring and Drilling Services (ICDS) group at the University of Wisconsin as the
principle supplier of ice drilling and coring support and expertise to
NSF-funded research, and will interact with other research agencies and
international partners as well.
Ice coring and drilling are critical components of scientific research
in both polar regions and on high mountain glaciers, but they are not simple
tasks. At high altitude, cold sites, the snow never melts, it just piles up
year upon year, burying in the older snow clues to the climate at the time that
snow fell on the surface. So by collecting vertical cores from ice sheets,
evidence of the past can be obtained. Designers and engineers must create
heavy-duty equipment that can work in some of the most remote places on the
planet in punishing conditions of extreme cold, wind, precipitation and high
altitude. "Ice drills come in a surprisingly large variety of sizes, types
and purposes," Bentley says, "to satisfy the myriad needs of
The payoffs are high-quality ice core samples that provide scientists a
better understanding of past climate conditions, levels of pollution and even
clues into the origins of the universe, as well as boreholes that give
scientists access to the insides of ice sheets and glaciers. "Ice coring
science has led to many important discoveries," Albert notes,
"including the realization that climate can change dramatically in less
than ten years."
While the cores provide most
of the information about the ancient environment, the hole left behind provides
access to the interiors of the glaciers and ice sheets for measurements of
present-day temperatures, deformation rates and basal conditions that allow
researchers to better understand ice dynamics. Such research is crucial for
studying how melting and faster outflowing ice at the poles may impact sea
levels in response to climate change.
New Ice-core Drilling Agreements for Polar Research
January 21, 2009