UMD granted millions to drill deep into antarctic ice

By KBJR News 1

July 28, 2014 Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 6:23 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)--- "It's a BIG DEAL to do this. It's not easy," says Penny Morton, Associate Dean at UMD's College of Science and Engineering

That could be said about most any trip to Antarctica, but is especially true for a UMD professor who will be joining other researchers attempting to drill deep into Antarctic ice.

"We're able to get to parts of the ice sheet that no one has ever seen before. We can not only get deeper and older paleo climate records by drilling into the deep ice, but we're hopeful we can see what the conditions are at the base of the ice sheet," says Professor John Goodge, UMD Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Professor John Goodge is spearheading the project and he says those conditions have been widely speculated because they're up to two miles under ice.

Thanks to a nearly nine million dollar grant to UMD, a new drilling platform called the Rapid Access Ice Drill, or RAID will be constructed to be transported to Antarctica. The project speaks highly of UMD researchers.

"We're not a large school as you can imagine so for something our size to get this huge grant is amazing and to be part of such a large collaboration," says Morton.

The drilling will answer many questions for geologists and scientists with other backgrounds.

"How old the ice is, what the composition of the ice is, what the temperature change is, what temperatures were like when ice started to form," says Morton.

Among the secrets that may be held in the bedrock under the ice; possible evidence to support the evolution of supercontinents.

"I'm curious about how Antarctica formed as a continent and what role it formed in the formation and breakup of those supercontinents like Pangaea," says Goodge.

Under the ice, is not just ice and rock, in fact there are subglacial lakes that could hold mysterious life.

"We have some biologists that are interested in this project and one of the possibilities is that there is microbial life at the base of the ice sheet. So we'll be looking for micro-organisms that may exist and have perhaps lasted there for a long time," says Goodge.

The drill will be movable allowing the professor and his team to drill about five holes each season which last about three months. The professor expects drilling to go on for five to ten years.

A short window of time, through which to explore a very long history.

Drilling could begin as early as late 2017 which will leave time to gather scientific teams, test drilling equipment, and set different goals for the research.

Written and posted to the web by Bryce Henry