A drill liquid is essential for the purpose of recovering good-quality scientifically useful ice cores at intermediate to deep depths, i.e. >∼100 m. The pressure produced by the liquid helps to eliminate the detrimental effects of the abrupt release of isostatic pressure in the ice during the drilling process, prevents consequential fractures within the ice core, and is essential to produce an even distribution of hydrostatic pressure to balance the ice isostatic pressure and so minimize borehole deformation. To perform these tasks, while minimizing risks to health and the environment, the liquid needs to exhibit specific physical, chemical and biological characteristics. Here we report on two promising candidate drill liquids, ESTISOL™ 140 and ESTISOL™ 165, for use in the extreme conditions found within the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, where the temperature can range from close to 0°C to below −57°C and pressures can exceed 40 MPa. From both the manufacturer’s data and our laboratory tests and observations we report on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics that both liquids exhibit. We also report on how one of the candidates was field-tested on the Greenland ice sheet and the East Antarctic high plateau.
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