The Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council

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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!

 

Sampling Probe

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 programme.

Well done to the team at NOC who worked extraordinarily long hours to achieve this.

 

Sediment Corers

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 and addressed.

Thanks to Pete Keen of Keen Marine for designing and producing such a well engineered device.

 

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 user interface.

 

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.

 

Summary

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 tired.

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.