The borehole was nearly a half-mile down to reach Lake Whillans, which has been buried for thousands of years. Source: WISSARD

A team of scientists and engineers, for the first time, reached a lake deep beneath an Antarctic glacier using a hot-water drill system designed and manufactured by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The team, funded by the National Science Foundation, bored a nearly 1 foot-wide hole through a half mile of ice to reach Lake Whillans in late January and retrieve water and sediment samples. The samples have been buried beneath the ice for thousands of years, and are expected to give scientists insight into that time on Earth and life under a glacier.
"We're very happy," said Frank Rack, an associate professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at UNL and the executive director of the Antarctic Geologic Drilling (ANDRILL) Science Management Office at UNL. "The challenge of the drill was to ensure that everything worked together and we were providing enough heat into the ice to melt the hole and advance at a good rate, but also to keep everything clean."
The drill provided up to 72 gallons per minute of 194-degree Fahrenheit water at up to 2,500 pounds per square inch and needed only about 24 hours on Jan. 23 and 24 to make the initial hole at Lake Whillans. The team lowered a remotely operated vehicle called an M-sled that confirmed on Jan. 28 that the hole was open to the lake.
"To make the final breakthrough took a bit of time," Rack said. "Our goal was to have the water from the lake flow into the borehole so we could enter with as little disturbance as possible."
Rack said the drilling and the gathering of scientific materials all had to be done while preventing any contamination of the lake. Scientists safeguarded the subglacial environment with a combination of fine-mesh filtration systems, germicidal ultraviolet radiation baths and physical cleaning systems that included hydrogen peroxide washes for the tools that went down the hole.
The Antarctic borehole project is the culmination of more than 10 years of international and U.S. planning.
Samples were sent to laboratories for chemical and biological analyses in the coming weeks and months.
Building of the drill started in 2011 and half of the system went to Antarctica by ship in December of that year. The rest of it was flown to the ice on C-17 aircraft last October through early December. The entire system came together for the first time in Antarctica and was tested by melting a 230-foot hole in the ice near the U.S. McMurdo Station on Ross Island.
Then followed what may have been biggest challenge faced by the project-the largest traverse in U.S. Antarctic history. Thirteen tractors pulled 26 ski-mounted modules containing the drill and its accompanying science labs and camp infrastructure, weighing more than 500,000 pounds, 625 miles across the Ross Ice Sheet to Lake Whillans, a 1.2 square-mile lake near the southeast edge of the Ross Sea.
"Not only did the drill have to work, but the whole system had to traverse this long distance mounted up on skis, so there was a lot of vibration and shock," Rack said.
The UNL team at the drill site was led by Dennis Duling, the lead driller and senior research project manager for ANDRILL.