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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.
Using an anti-icing coating to prevent ice accretion on the drill surface is a feasible solution to address the drilling difficulties in warm ice. In this study, four types of commercially available hydrophobic coating materials were tested to evaluate their water repellency and anti-icing properties, namely, a mixture of silica and fluorocarbon resin with polytrifluoroethylene, modified Teflon, silica-based emulsion and an acrylic-based copolymer. Their water contact angles are ~107°, 101°, 114° and 95°, respectively. All these hydrophobic coatings can significantly reduce the strength of the ice adhesion within a temperature range of −10 to −30°C on a planar or curved surface. The coating of an acrylic-based copolymer, in particular, can reduce the average tensile strength and the shear strength of the ice adhesion by 87.08 and 97.11% on planar surfaces at −30°C, and by 98.06 and 96.15% on a curved surface, respectively. The main challenge in the practical application of these coatings is their durability. An acrylic-based copolymer coating will lose its water repellency performance after 140 cycles of abrasion. The shear strength of ice adhered on curved surfaces coated with this material will approach that achieved on uncoated surfaces after 11 cycles of icing and de-icing tests.
A new type of ice core drill bit, designed with a vane swirler, was developed for ice core drilling with air reverse circulation. An orthogonal experimental design method was employed to investigate the effects of the swirler structure parameters on the reverse circulation performance of the drill bit including helical angle, number of blades, blade length and blade central angle, etc. The entrainment ratio was used to evaluate the reverse circulation effectiveness of the drill bit. The results show that the helical angle is the dominant factor regardless of whether or not the flushing nozzles are part of the design of the drill bit. The number of blades is the least important factor for the drill bit designed with the flushing nozzles (referred to as drill bit I), while the outlet area of the swirling slot is the least influential factor for the drill bit without flushing nozzles (referred to as drill bit П). In addition, the appearance of the ice core has a certain effect on the air reverse circulation for both drill bits. Within the ranges of this study, the optimal structure of the drill bit was determined based on the range analysis of the orthogonal design.
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.
Electromechanical cable-suspended drilling technology is considered one of the most feasible methods for subglacial bedrock drilling. The outstanding feature of this technology is that the bit load produced by the drill weight is usually within the range 1.5–4 kN while the recommended load for diamond drilling is 10–30 kN or even more. Therefore, searching for the diamond bits that can drill in extremely hard formations with minimal load and acceptable rates of penetration and torque is the necessary step to prove the feasibility of electromechanical subglacial drilling technology. A special test stand has been designed and constructed to examine the impregnated, surface-set, toothed and specially manufactured bionic drill bits. The results of experiments with ten types of drill bits show that the toothed diamond drill bit has the highest penetration rate of 3.18 m h−1 in very hard and abrasive granite under a 3 kN load. The torque (28.7 Nm) and power consumption (1.5 kW) of toothed drill bits are acceptable for cable-suspended drilling. The penetration rates of bionic drill bits may also be considered suitable and fall within the range 1.0–1.69 m h−1 under the lowest tested load.
To prevent spinning of the upper non-rotated part of the electromechanical drill, an ‘anti-torque system’ has to be included in the downhole unit. At the same time, the anti-torque must allow the drill to move up and down the borehole during drilling and tripping operations. Usually the anti-torque system has a blade form of various designs that engages with the borehole wall and counteracts the torque from the stator of the driving motor. This paper presents a review of the different anti-torque systems and test results with selected designs (leaf spring, skate and U-shaped anti-torque systems). Experiments showed that the skate anti-torque system can provide the maximal holding torque between 67 and 267 Nm−1 depending on the skates’ outer diameter and ice temperature, while the leaf spring anti-torque system can provide only 2.5–40 N m−1 (in case of straight contact between the ice and the leaf springs). The total resistance force to axial movement of the skate anti-torque system lies in the range 209–454N if the system is vibrating. For the leaf spring anti-torque system, the total axial resistance force is far less (19–243 N).
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