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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.
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.
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.
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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