As the Lake Ellsworth project team prepared the probe and sediment corer gear for
shipping to site, it is fair to say that a good amount of midnight oil was burned.
Over the last few months progress was steady, positive with everyone focused intently
on meeting deadlines and preparing everything for the field season later this year.
Band of Volunteers
Firstly, a huge “thank you” to the army of volunteers who gave their time to help
the intricate cleaning and assembly of the instruments down at the National Oceanography
Centre (NOC). You may have felt as though you have done anything significant, but
collectively you enabled us to deliver the instruments in time for the shipping deadline.
It is extremely unlikely that we would have been able to do this without you so,
on behalf of the programme, thank you!
On the morning of Friday 13th July the first fully assembled probe was lowered over
the dockside into the sea at Southampton for a full system test!
The aim was to attempt to simulate the deployment in Lake Ellsworth, i.e. to power
up the system in the correct order, to calibrate all the instruments and prime the
bottles and pumps at the water surface, to trigger the various sampling equipment
at difference depths and finally to retrieve a small sediment core from the sea bed.
Despite this test being undertaken on such an ominous date (a brave move if ever
there was one), I’m really pleased to report that the test was a great success. Apart
from an intermittent comms problem (which has subsequently been fixed) and 1 of the
24 sample bottle valves sticking, the probe behaved very well indeed collecting water,
particles, sensor data and a perfect sediment core. The cameras on the probe worked
extremely well allowing good visibility and enabling really fine control of the probe
position to be achieved.
The success of this test is a huge relief to the programme as there is now only a
short period of time to strip the probe down, clean, sterilize and reassemble it
within its deployment housing, along with the 4 other instrument required for the
Well done to the team at NOC who worked extraordinarily long hours to achieve this.
As you may recall, the programme has developed 2 sediment corers using different
technologies. The first is essentially a modified piston corer with a tightly controlled
percussion system giving us the best possible chance of recovering an intact, undisturbed
core from the bed of the lake. The second corer is a very simple gravity corer design
which can provide a reasonable backup in the event of a full comms / system failure.
Earlier in the summer the team was busy at UWITEC in Austria putting the finishing
touches to the piston corer and getting ready for a lake trial. I’m pleased to say
that the lake trial did take place and that the corer performed admirably recovering
a really good quality, intact core from the lake bed. Following some final engineering
modifications at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) by Mark and Julian (AME engineers),
the piston corer is now at NOC awaiting final cleaning and assembly. The gravity
corer has been cleaned and assembled in the sterile isolator and is currently being
housed within its deployment system.
UV Sterilization Unit
The UV unit is also now complete. This unit will be the very first thing lowered
into the well head following the drilling operation. It is essentially a very high
powered UV lamp, powerful enough to sterilize the top section of the bore hole within
approx 30 mins. This unit closes the gap on our cleaning protocols meaning that,
at every stage of deployment, the potential contamination points have been identified
Thanks to Pete Keen of Keen Marine for designing and producing such a well engineered
Hot Water Drill Monitoring
Although the hot water drill is already on site at Ellsworth, a hugely important
component of the drill, the monitoring system, is just approaching completion at
BAS. The monitoring system is essentially the eyes and ears of the drilling system
– without it, there would be no information feedback to allow us to control the drill
during its operation. The system collects data from sensors all over the drill system
– pressure, temperature, flow, load, warnings, etc – and displays them on a graphical
Seth and Mark (AME engineers) have been working against a tight deadline on this
and have engineered a really nice, intuitive system that is easy to install and operate.
The information from this system will be fed back to the living tent so that everyone
on site will be able to watch the progress of the drilling operation.
Once the shipping containers are en-route to Lake Ellsworth, the field team will
be making final preparations for the field season – finalizing the on-site procedures,
undergoing training, collating documentation, shipping any hazardous cargo, etc.
The field team will leave for Antarctica around the middle of October, hoping to
be on site around 10th November. If all goes to plan, the first samples will be retrieved
around 18th December 2012
Finally, the programme owes a massive “thank you” to everyone involved in getting
us this far. We have delivered an awful lot in a very short timeframe and this shouldn’t
be forgotten. The teams at NOC and BAS worked extremely long hours and are all pretty
News archive 2012
August 2012. No going back! Programme Manager Chris Hill shares his latest report.
9:30pm on 12th July – the sampling probe – fully assembled ready for testing.