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A 198.8 m deep borehole was drilled through ice to subglacial bedrock in the northwestern marginal part of Princess Elizabeth Land, ~12 km south of Zhongshan Station, in January–February 2019. Three years later, in February 2022, the borehole temperature profile was measured, and the geothermal heat flow (GHF) was estimated using a 1-D time-dependent energy-balance equation. For a depth corresponding to the base of the ice sheet, the GHF was calculated as 72.6 ± 2.3 mW m−2 and temperature −4.53 ± 0.27°C. The regional averages estimated for this area based, generally, on tectonic setting vary from 55 to 66 mW m−2. A higher GHF is interpreted to originate mostly from the occurrence of metamorphic complexes intruded by heat-producing elements in the subglacial bedrock below the drill site.
Very few studies have emphasized the effects of high-pressure sintering on snow density evolution, even though snow as a type of engineering material is widely used in construction engineering in cold regions for snow pavement, snow runway and polar infrastructure. This study presents new experimental results of snow densification under high pressures of up to 100 MPa for a temperature range from −3.5 to −17.3°C and uniaxial compression at the temperature of −10°C and constant strain rates from 5 × 10−4 to 10−1 s−1. Results reveal that density evolution of snow to ice under high-pressure sintering can be achieved in a wide temperature range within a duration as short as 5 min. The compressive strength of snow-sintered ice was ~1.2–2.2 times as large as that of water-frozen ice reported by previous work. The orthogonal experiment showed that pressure is a more significant factor affecting the final density in comparison with sintering temperature and time. The increased rates of ice fabrication, low limitations on temperature and reliable sintered snow strength indicate that snow-ice engineering, such as airport construction in Greenland and Antarctica, can be improved by high-pressure sintering of snow to overcome the harsh environment.
This article presents the main aspects of the design solutions (based on the application of sensors MEMS and cantilevers), testing and applying of the multi-functional borehole logger ANTTIC (Antarctic Thermo-barometer, Inclinometer, Caliper) for geophysical high-precision monitoring (when simultaneous registering of temperature, pressure, axis inclination angle and radii of borehole cross-sections at 12 points), which is designed specifically for ultra-low temperatures and ultra-high pressures, and to determine an elliptical borehole shape and registration anisotropy factor in deep ice boreholes in the central region of Eastern Antarctica, in the areas of dome A at the Kunlun station (China) and/or of lake Vostok at the Vostok station (Russia).
Hot-point drills have been widely used for drilling boreholes in glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets. A hot-point drill melts ice through the thermal head at its bottom end. Penetration occurs through a close-contact melting (CCM) process, in which the ice is melted, and the meltwater is squeezed out by the exerted force applied on the thermal head. During the drilling, a thin water film is formed to separate the thermal head from the surrounding ice. For the hot-point drill, the rate of penetration (ROP) is influenced by several variables, such as thermal head shape, buoyancy corrected force (BCF), thermal head power (or temperature) and ice temperature. In this study, we developed a model to describe the CCM process, where a constant power or temperature on the working surface of a thermal head is assumed. The model was developed using COMSOL Multiphysics 5.3a software to evaluate the effects of different variables on the CCM process. It was discovered that the effect of thermal head shape and the cone angle of conical thermal head on ROP is less significant, whereas the increase in the BCF and the power (or temperature) of the thermal head can continuously enhance the ROP.
Drilling and sampling are the most direct and effective methods available to study Antarctic subglacial lakes. Based on the Philberth probe, a Recoverable Autonomous Sonde (RECAS) allows for in situ lake water measurement and sampling, through the addition of an upper thermal tip and a cable recoiling mechanism. RECAS-200, a prototype of RECAS, has a drilling depth of 200 m, a surface supply voltage of 800 VAC and a downhole power of ~9.6 kW during drilling. In this study, a heating control system for RECAS-200 was designed. The system avoids the need for high-power step-down converters, by separating heating power from control power, thereby reducing the overall weight of the probe and avoiding the need to increase cable diameter. We also introduce a self-developed, small, solid-state, 800 VAC power regulator and a fuzzy PID temperature control algorithm. Their purpose was to manage the power adjustment of each heating element and to provide closed-loop temperature control of certain heating elements which can easily burn out due to overheating. Test results indicated that the proposed RECAS-200 heating control system met all our design specifications and could be easily assembled into the RECAS-200 probe.
A deep ice core was drilled at Dome A, Antarctic Plateau, East Antarctica, which started with the installation of a casing in January 2012 and reached 800.8 m in January 2017. To date, a total of 337 successful ice-core drilling runs have been conducted, including 118 runs to drill the pilot hole. The total drilling time was 52 days, of which eight days were required for drilling down and reaming the pilot hole, and 44 days for deep ice coring. The average penetration depths of individual runs were 1 and 3.1 m for the pilot hole drilling and deep ice coring, respectively. The quality of the ice cores was imperfect in the brittle zone (650−800 m). Some of the troubles encountered are discussed for reference, such as armoured cable knotting, screws falling into the hole bottom, and damaged parts, among others.
Subglacial lake exploration is of great interest to the science community. RECoverable Autonomous Sonde (RECAS) provides an exploration tool to measure and sample subglacial lake environments while the subglacial lake remains isolated from the glacier surface and atmosphere. This paper presents an electronic control system design of 200 m prototype of RECAS. The proposed electronic control system consists of a surface system, a downhole control system, and a power transfer and communication system. The downhole control system is the core element of RECAS, and is responsible for sonde status monitoring, sonde motion control, subglacial water sampling and in situ analysis. A custom RS485 temperature sensor was developed to cater for the limited size and depth requirements of the system. We adopted a humidity-based measurement to monitor for a housing leak. This condition is because standard leak detection monitoring of water conductivity may be inapplicable to pure ice in Antarctica. A water sampler control board was designed to control the samplers and monitor the on/off state. A high-definition camera system with built-in storage and self-heating ability was designed to perform the video recording in the subglacial lake. The proposed electronic control system is proven effective after a series of tests.
In glaciology, snow–firn temperature at 10 m is considered a representation of the mean annual air temperature at the surface (MAAT) of the studied site. Although MAAT is an important parameter in ice-sheet investigations, it has not been widely measured in Antarctica. To measure the 10 m snow–firn temperature in Antarctica, a shallow hot-point drill system is designed. In this simple and lightweight system, a hot-point drill can melt boreholes with a diameter of 34 mm in the snow–firn to a depth of 30 m and a temperature sensors string can measure the borehole temperature precisely. In the 2018/19 field season, 16 boreholes along the Zhongshan–Dome A traverse were drilled, and the borehole temperature was measured. Although certain problems existed pertaining to the hot-point drill, a total depth of ~244 m was successfully drilled at an average penetration rate of ~10 m h−1. After borehole drilling, ~12–15 h were generally required for the borehole to achieve thermal equilibrium with the surroundings. Preliminary results demonstrated that the 10 m snow–firn temperature along the traverse route was affected by the increasing altitude and latitude, and it decreased gradually with an increase in the distance from Zhongshan station.
A series of new synthetic armored cables were developed and tested to ensure that they were suitable for use with the RECoverable Autonomous Sonde (RECAS), which is a newly designed freezing-in thermal ice probe. The final version of the cable consists of two concentric conductors that can be used as the power and signal lines. Two polyfluoroalkoxy jackets are used for electrical insulation (one for insulation between conductors, and the other for insulation of the outer conductor). The outer insulation layer is coated by polyurethane jacket to seal the connections between the cable and electrical units. The 0.65 mm thick strength member is made from aramid fibers woven together. To hold these aramid fibers in place, a sheathing layer was produced from a polyamide fabric cover net. The outer diameter of the final version of the cable is ~6.1 mm. The permissible bending radius is as low as 17–20 mm. The maximal breaking force under straight tension is ~12.2 kN. The cable weight is only ~0.061 kg m−1. The mechanical and electrical properties and environmental suitability of the cable were determined through laboratory testing and joint testing with the probe.
Monitoring the tension in cables is significant in some ice drill and deepwater applications. Take our RECoverable Autonomous Sonde (RECAS) for example. It is able to melt a hole to the bottom of ice sheet and is able to move upwards. A winch is installed inside RECAS to release and recover the cable, whose tension needs to be monitored in real time in order to control the behavior of the winch. The high pressure of deep water and limited installation space pose great challenges in sensor development. In this paper, two editions of newly designed deepwater tension sensors are proposed. The first edition is based on a fresh hydraulic load module that operates in high pressure environment and the second edition tension, which aims to improve the accuracy, applies a newly designed watertight load module. Detailed force transmission and characteristic analysis of the sensors are carried out. The sensors have got through a series of experiments, including calibration experiments, pressure experiments and field experiments. The resultant accuracy of the second edition sensor, which has a better performance, is over 2% under the measuring range of 1000 kg and the dimension of the final sensor is as compact as 150 mm × 137 mm × 86 mm.
Hot-water ice-coring drills are often used to recover ice core samples from desirable depths in conjunction with full-scale hot-water drilling systems. However, the recovered cores exhibit varying qualities. The coring performance of a hot-water ice-coring drill depends significantly on the structure of the coring drill head (nozzle angle, diameter and number). To discover the most significant factor affecting ice-coring performance, nine types of drill heads were designed and tested in this study according to the orthogonal test design. Results indicated that the nozzle angle is the most significant factor that affects the coring quality and the optimal angle is ~15°. The number of nozzles is the second most important factor; a large number assists in obtaining ice cores of high quality. The optimal nozzle configuration to recover good quality cores are the following: the nozzle diameter, number of nozzles and nozzle angle are 1 mm, 60 nozzles and 15°, respectively, with the maximum diameter and 2 mm, 60 nozzles and 15°, respectively, with the maximum length.
The Antarctic subglacial drilling rig (ASDR) is designed to recover 105 mm-diameter ice cores up to 1400 m depth and 41.5 mm-diameter bedrock cores up to 2 m in length. In order to ensure safe and convenient drilling, drilling auxiliaries are designed to support fieldwork and servicing. These auxiliaries are subdivided into several systems for power supply, drill tripping in the borehole, ice core and chip processing, and drill servicing and maintenance. The required equipment also includes two generators, a drilling winch with a cable, logging winch with a cable, control desk, pipe handler with a fixed clamp, chip chamber vibrator, centrifuge, emergency devices and fitting and electrical tools. Additionally, several environmental protective measures such as a new liquid-tight casing with a thermal casing shoe and a bailing device for recovering drilling fluid from the borehole were designed. Most of the auxiliaries were tested during the summer of 2018–2019 near Zhongshan Station, East Antarctica while drilling to the bedrock to a depth of 198 m.
Drilling to the bedrock of ice sheets and glaciers offers unique opportunities for examining the processes occurring in the bed. Basal and subglacial materials contain important paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental records and provide a unique habitat for life; they offer significant information regarding the sediment deformation beneath glaciers and its effects on the subglacial hydraulic system and geology. The newly developed and tested Antarctic subglacial drilling rig (ASDR) is designed to recover ice and bedrock core samples from depths of up to 1400 m. All of the drilling equipment is installed inside a movable, sledge-mounted, temperature-controlled and wind-protected drilling shelter and workshop. To facilitate helicopter unloading of the research vessel, the shelter and workshop can be disassembled, with individual parts weighing <2–3 tons. The entire ASDR system weighs ~55 tons, including transport packaging. The ASDR is designed to be transported to the chosen site via snow vehicles and would be ready for drilling operations within 2–3 d after arrival. The ASDR was tested during the 2018–2019 summer season near Zhongshan Station, East Antarctica. At the test site, 2-week drilling operations resulted in a borehole that reached bedrock at a depth of 198 m.
A new, modified version of the cable-suspended Ice and Bedrock Electromechanical Drill (IBED) was designed for drilling in firn, ice, debris-rich ice and rock. The upper part of the drill is almost the same for all drill variants and comprises four sections: cable termination, a slip-ring section, an antitorque system and an electronic pressure chamber. The lower part of the IBED comprises an auger core barrel, reamers, a core barrel for ice/debris-ice drilling and a conventional geological single-tube core barrel or custom-made double-tube core barrel. First, the short and full-scale field versions of the IBED were tested at an outdoor testing stand and a testing facility with a 12.5 m-deep ice well. Then, in the 2018–2019 summer season, the IBED was tested in the field at a site ~12 km south of Zhongshan Station, East Antarctica, and a ~6 cm bedrock core was recovered from a 198 m-deep borehole. A total of 18 d was required to penetrate the ice sheet. The retrieved core samples of blue ice, basal ice and bedrock provided valuable information regarding the Earth's paleo-environment.
In many cases, the efficiency and safety of a drilling project depend on the reliability of the electrical and electronic control system, as the process progresses without visual access of the operator. The electrical and electronic system provides and regulates the power supply for the drill, collects and monitors the drill data during the whole operating process, and sends and receives the control instructions and feedback signals. The entire system is composed of the surface, borehole and software subsystems. The surface subsystem serves for operating the drilling process, transmitting the drilling and environmental data, and supplying power for the drill motor and downhole control system. The borehole subsystem is generally intended for borehole data acquisition, drill motor control, power regulation and communication. The software subsystem is designed for human–computer interaction, data processing and storage, and programming of signal acquisition and transmission of data. The control system of Antarctic subglacial drilling rig was tested during the 2018–2019 summer season near Zhongshan Station, East Antarctica, in the course of drilling to the bedrock at a depth of 198 m. It exhibited a steady and efficient performance without significant system failures.
Ice-core drilling to depths of 200–300 m is an important part of research studies concerned with paleoclimate reconstruction and anthropogenic climate change. However, conventional drilling methods face difficulties due to firn permeability. We have developed an electromechanical ice-core drill with air reverse circulation at the hole bottom. We believe that the new drilling system will recover ice cores faster than shallow auger drills, with high efficiency and low energy consumption. The theoretically estimated up-hole speed of the airflow should be not <7.7 m s−1 to allow proper removal of ice cuttings from the borehole bottom. The computer simulation and test results showed that the design of the new ice-coring drill is feasible. The maximum allowed penetration rate depends by square law on airflow.
A challenge for future deep-ice coring in central Antarctica is to identify an appropriate inert drilling fluid with no undesirable physical or chemical characteristics. The drilling fluids currently in use (kerosene-based fluids with density-increasing additives, ethanol and n-butyl acetate) are not intelligent choices for the future from safety, environmental and some technological standpoints. Recently proposed drilling fluids based upon ESTISOL™ have high viscosity at low temperatures, which severely limits their application in cold environments. This paper presents our research into the application of low-molecular-weight, fatty-acid esters (FAEs), substances commonly used in the fragrance and flavoring industries. According to available data, selected FAEs are not hazardous to human health. Considering density requirements alone, ethyl butyrate and n-propyl propionate best meet our present needs. The viscosities of these two chemicals are also the lowest among studied FAEs, not exceeding 4 mPas at temperatures down to −60°C. Both compounds are highly volatile, and insoluble in water. Such properties are attractive, but the applicability of FAEs to deep, cold, ice drilling can be evaluated only after field-based, practical experiments in test boreholes.
The Chinese First Deep Ice-Core Drilling Project DK-1 has commenced at Kunlun station in the Dome A region, the highest plateau in Antarctica. During the first season, within the 28th Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition (CHINARE) 2011/12 the pilot hole was drilled and reamed in order to install a 100 m deep fiberglass casing. In the next season, 29th CHINARE 2012/13, the deep ice-core drilling system was installed, and all the auxiliary equipment was connected and commissioned. After filling the hole with drilling fluid (n-butyl acetate), three runs of ‘wet’ ice-core drilling were carried out and a depth of 131.24 m was reached. Drilling to the bedrock at the target depth of ∼3100 m is planned to be completed during a further four seasons. We describe the work in progress and the status of equipment for the Dome A drilling project.