SMS On-Ice Report #1 - Oct. 21, 2007

October 21, 2007
Drill Rig
ANDRILL drilling rig and Mt. Erebus active volcano in the distance (photo: S. Nielsen)

 

Welcome to ANDRILL! This is the first in a series of weekly updates from McMurdo Station by the Co-Chief Scientists to report on the progress and activities of the ANDRILL Southern McMurdo Sound (SMS) Project. This report will be a bit longer than future reports, because we summarize the activities of the first 3 weeks, starting from October 4. It has been busy here, but we are now well underway and advancing the drillstring downward and recovering sediment core!

All has gone according to schedule, except for the delayed arrival of Co-Chief Scientist Fabio Florindo, due to a medical clearance issue, whose arrival we are anxiously awaiting. There has been excellent cooperation between the scientists in McMurdo, the drill crew at the drillsite (many of which arrived in late August to transport and set-up the drill rig and camp), the support teams in U.S McMurdo Station (National Science Foundation and Raytheon Polar Services Co.) and Scott Base (Antarctica New Zealand). All have worked together to achieve early success for ANDRILL; we are now at 140.71 meters below sea floor (mbsf) and recovering sediment core that will help us tell the history of climate and environmental change in this region over the past 17 million years. Indeed, there has been something for everyone in the upper part of this drillcore sequence, volcanic sediments and lava, glacial sediments, diatom fossils, granite pebbles, cracks and micro-faults, gneiss with boudinage, and foraminifera!

Core Tour
Greg Browne leading the daily core tour for the science team (photo: S. Nielsen)

 

The team of scientists, technicians, educators, and students arrived in Antarctica through 3 main C-17 Globemaster flights from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Sound between 4-10 October. The first core was recovered on the 10th of October, and arrived in the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center (CSEC), of McMurdo Station on 15 October, after the sea-riser was secured into the sea-floor (sea riser shoe is at about 9 meters below the sea floor). This year, ANDRILL is drilling at the Southern McMurdo Sound (SMS) Project site (77°45.488S; 165°16.613E), located approximately 25 km from McMurdo Station (U.S.)/Scott Base (N.Z.), on a floating ice platform of ~8.5 meters of sea-ice, in ~380 meters of water, and we anticipate drilling to a depth greater than ~1000 meters below the sea floor (mbsf) before completing the objectives of this project.

 


Close-up of microscope slide for fossil diatom study
(photo: C. Riesselman)

We are drilling into a thick sedimentary section at the bottom of the ocean to be able to study and infer a history of major climate changes of ice sheet advance and retreat, and of associated sea-level rise and fall. We will be time travelers through the last 17 million years of Earth history, charged with the mission of improving our understanding of the behavior of the Antarctic cryosphere and climate of the region. The new information we obtain will help other scientists in the ANDRILL Program predict what future climate changes might lie ahead for us, as our Planet continues to warm (e.g., see IPCC projections; www.ipcc.ch). By studying the past, we can predict the future of the Planet.

 


Traverse vehicles of ANDRILL's Mackay Sea Valley
field team departing McMurdo. (photo: C. Riesselman)

The SMS Project is the second ANDRILL Project. Last year, a wonderful sequence of sedimentary rocks was recovered by the McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS) Project, the record-setting deepest drillhole in Antarctica, with more than 1284 meters of penetration and recovery of more than 98% of the penetrated sequence. The success last year will provide a very useful reference section for this year’s effort, by providing useful time horizons to help date the shallower sequence we are recovering this year. We plan to drill deeper back in time this year, and record geological and paleoclimatic events associated with warmer-than-present Earths. Chief amongst these are the events between 3 to 5 million years ago and between 14 to 16 million years ago.

You can learn a lot more about ANDRILL and our adventures and success by logging onto http://andrill.org/iceberg, our main education and outreach portal for the ANDRILL Program. Here you will find blogs written by educators and scientists who are participating in ANDRILL this year, as well as photos, videos, activities, and other interesting features.

In the next weekly report, we will review the rocks recovered so far, and comment on their importance to our story of Antarctic climate evolution. To date, all of the scientists and team members here are engaged, are curious, and are working hard toward our common goals. We anticipate stopping drilling by earliest December (depending on the sea ice condition and stability), still many weeks away and many discoveries and challenges around every corner.

Best wishes from Antarctica!

on behalf of the ANDRILL SMS Project Science Team,

David Harwood and Fabio Florindo
Co-Chief Scientists

Franco Talarico
Acting on-ice Co-Chief Scientist