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A 2 km hole has been drilled into Antarctic ice to better understand climate change

Credits: British Antarctic Survey

A team of researcher have announced they have bored the deepest hole in West Antarctica.  By carrying out this experiment, researchers aim to gain a better understanding of how the region will react in the face of global warming and to what extent melting waters will influence sea levels.

Many research projects are carried out in Antarctica.  Recently a team of researchers announced they discovered the remains of past life one kilometre below the surface in Mercer Lake.  However last Wednesday another team announced that they have bored the deepest hole ever drilled in the western region of the continent, in an area called the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). After drilling for 63 hours non stop with the help of hot water, researchers finally reached sediment that was located 2,152 metre deep.

Andy Smith, the leading author of the research project said in a statement, “I have waited for this moment for a long time and am delighted that we’ve finally achieved our goal.” He went on to say, “There are gaps in our knowledge of what’s happening in West Antarctica and by studying the area where the ice sits on soft sediment we can understand better how this region may change in the future and contribute to global sea-level rise.”

Scientists bore a hole that is 2km deep in Western Antarctica. Credits : British Antarctic Survey

Reduce uncertainties

The project hopes this Antarctic borehole will help researchers learn more about “the past behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet…[and] the flow of the fast ‘ice streams’ that drain it.” By measuring the ice from the surface to the bed of the Rutford Ice Stream, researchers will be able to understand when the ice sheet disappeared fully the last time.  They will also have a better understanding of how the water and sediments that lie under the ice could speed up the movement of the ice as it melts into the sea.  It is clear that warmer oceans are causing Antarctic ice to melt. Keith Makinson, a physical oceanographer at BAS said in a statement that “This will help us determine future sea level rise from West Antarctica with more certainty.”

Researchers used several instruments that were lowered into the depths of the hole so as to retrieve as much information as possible.  thy want to know more about water pressure, ice sheet deformation and the ice temperature.  The results of these tests should help researchers better understand conditions at this depth and allow them to predict the future behaviour of the region as it faces climate change.  The idea of this study is therefore to “see” what is happening below the ice so that we can reduce uncertainties about ice melt and rising sea levels.

However it should be noted that this is not the deepest hole ever drilled.  Researchers from IceCube Neutrinos observatory bored the deepest hole near to the South Pole a few years ago to the depth of 2,214 m.


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