University of Wisconsin-Madison Physical Sciences Lab

Antarctic Glaciological Research

Photo of Shot Hole Drill

As part of the International Polar Year, Penn State University researchers in conjunction with the Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) conducted a study of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Using geophysical methods, the researchers are studying the vulnerability of this little studied region of the West Antarctic ice sheet to sea level rise and a warming climate. The researchers call on active source seismology, using acoustic waves that travel down through ice and reflect back from the internal layers and the ice-rock interface. The success of the project is determined by the performance to the equipment in the harsh polar environment. PSL, in collaboration with the UW Space Science and Engineering Center, constructed a reliable and transportable hot water drill. Related to this work, PSL also built a drill that works by cutting the ice, instead of melting it. Called the Shot Hole Drill, this drill works faster than previous options and is used for drilling more holes to shallower depths. These and other similar drills give researchers many tools for placement of equipment as dictated by conditions and by the goals of the study.