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

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS  &  USEFUL BACKGROUND INFORMATION

 

1. About the mission       

2. History of subglacial lake exploration  

3. Timeline of this season’s field expedition  

4. About Lake Ellsworth      

5. Getting to the Lake Ellsworth drilling site   

6. What equipment was shipped / flown in?  

7. On the Lake Ellsworth drilling site  

8. Drilling the borehole      

9. Sampling the lake      

10. Sterility issues       

11. About the consortium    

 

1. About the mission

Why is the exploration of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth taking place?

To answer two science questions:

 

1. ‘Search for life’

 

2. ‘Secrets in the sediments’

 

2. History of subglacial lake exploration

16 years ago the scientific community came together to discuss subglacial lakes – it was agreed that these lakes could potentially offer vital clues about life on planet earth and their lake-bed sediments could reveal a story about past climate change.

 

However, the technology simply didn’t exist for getting into these lakes.

 

NERC awarded the SLE consortium with the largest sum of money ever given – around £8m. The SLE consortium has spent the past three years designing and building a:

 

16 years of planning will result in:

 

3. Timeline of this year’s field expedition

OCTOBER

22 October - Chris Hill (BAS), Andy Tait (BAS), Andy Webb (BAS), Ed Waugh (NOC) and Robin Brown (NOC), fly from the UK to Punta Arenas in Chile

 

NOVEMBER

2 November   ‘Union Glacier Crew’ Andy Webb (BAS) and Ed Waugh (NOC) fly into Union Glacier to make preparations for the tractor train journey, which they are accompanying

5 November    Pete Bucktrout (BAS camera man) flies from UK to Punta Arenas in Chile

7 November    ‘Rothera Engineering Crew’ Chris Hill (BAS), Andy Tait (BAS), Pete Bucktrout (BAS), Robin Brown (NOC), Riet van de Velde (BAS) and Scott Iremonger (BAS) fly into BAS Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula

12 November  ‘Rothera Engineering Crew’ fly from Rothera in a Twin Otter to the Lake Ellsworth site in preparation to greet the tractor train when it arrives from Union Glacier

18 November  Tractor train leaves Union Glacier – roughly a three day trip through the Ellsworth Mountain Range to the Lake Ellsworth drilling site

25 November  ‘Science Crew’ David Pearce (BAS), Dom Hodgson (BAS), Martin Siegert (Uni of Bristol), Martyn Tranter (Uni of Bristol) fly from UK to Punta Arenas in Chile

27 November  ‘Science Crew’ fly from Punta Arenas to BAS Rothera Research Station

30 November  Full camp site established

 

DECEMBER

2 December – ‘Science Crew’ David Pearce (BAS), Dom Hodgson (BAS), Martin Siegert (Uni of Biristol), Martyn Tranter (Uni of Bristol) fly from Rothera to Lake Ellsworth drilling site

 

5 December    Begin priming the hot water drill

12 December   Start drilling (roughly 100 hours of drilling)

18 December   First samples retrieved

 

JANUARY

2 January      ‘Science Crew’, Pete Bucktrout (BAS) and samples fly back to Rothera

 

15 January     Drilling kit back to Union Glacier

 

27 January     Remaining crew fly back to UK

 

4. About Lake Ellsworth

Where is it?

 

Why is it liquid and not frozen?

 

What size is it?

 

How did you map the lake?

 

How long has it been isolated?

 

Why did you choose Lake Ellsworth if there are more than 400 discovered so far in Antarctica?

 

5. Getting to the Lake Ellsworth drilling site

How far away is the Lake Ellsworth site?

 

How long did it take for the people to travel to Lake Ellsworth?

 

How did you get all the equipment in?

 

6. What equipment was shipped / flown in and when?

 

7. On the Lake Ellsworth drilling site

What time zone is the team working on?

 

What’s it like on site?

 

How will the field team be living?

 

Who is on site?

The following people make up the Field Team:

 

8. Drilling the borehole

How are you getting into the lake?

 

9. Sampling the lake

What order does everything happen in?

Water-sampling probe

 

Sediment corer

10. Sterility issues

Sterility is at the heart of this project and has been from the outset…why?

So as not to invalidate the samples – the lake is a pristine environment and we want to collect pristine samples, not to be sampling something we’ve taken down there with us

 

How can you be sure you’re not contaminating the lake?

 

11. About the consortium

SLE is a consortium programme, including which institutions?