Update

Archived PolarConnect Event: Celebrating Antarctica Day with the WISSARD project
3 December 2012
This one hour event is available in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

A hot water drill used to drill through the sea ice
A hot water drill used to drill through the sea ice
This is the first of two research seasons in Antarctica for the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project. The goal of the WISSARD Project was to learn more about the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the unique environments under glaciers in West Antarctica. In addition to understanding the geology and hydrology, the team studied life in extreme subglacial environments. By investigating this interrelated system, they got a better understanding of the influence of climate change on the melting of ice sheets and their contributions to sea level rise.

The WISSARD Project had three inter-related components:

  • RAGES (Robotic Access to Grounding zones for Exploration and Science)
  • LISSARD (Lake and Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling)
  • GBASE (GeomicroBiology of Antarctic Subglacial Environments)

The primary goal of the first field season was to test and explore the zone (grounding zone) just before the grounded ice of the Whillans Ice Stream went afloat into the Ross Ice Shelf, which is thought to be a very sensitive area in terms of ice sheet dynamics and its response to global warming. During their deployment, the team used a hot water drill to melt boreholes deep into the ice stream. After the holes were melted, they tested and deployed complex new monitoring and sampling equipment under the ice.

Learn more about the project at the official project website.

Where Are They?

Snow drifts on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
Snow drifts on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
The team staged operations out of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and then camped out and performed their research on the lower areas of the Whillans Ice Stream just before it went afloat into the Ross Ice Shelf. The ice stream is a faster flowing "stream" of ice within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the study site was located right at the head of the Ross Ice Shelf. McMurdo Station is located at the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound. During the summer research season, McMurdo Station supports up to 1,200 people.

Expedition Map

Dates
-
Location
McMurdo Station
Project Funded Title
WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project
Mike LeBaron - Teacher
Teacher
Lake Norman High School

Michael LeBaron grew up "on science", learning everything from welding to soil sampling on the family farm that was a part of the University of Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station. When Mr. LeBaron began college, majoring in Geology was a natural choice, as he knew that he wanted a profession where he could work outside while continuing to learn about the world around him. He has had a variety of careers since graduating with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Geology. These have included spending many years in the oil and gas industry, working as a field geologist in Uranium and Industrial Minerals Exploration, and even a short time in the banking world. Mr. LeBaron made one last career change into teaching, opening the door for him to give back and share what he had learned over the years as a professional geologist. He teaches Earth and AP Environmental Science teacher at Lake Norman High School, bringing his various science travels and knowledge into the classroom in some pretty offbeat and unusual teaching strategies. Travels have included going to Ecuador with the North Carolina Museum of Natural History to have a firsthand look at the impacts of poverty on environmental quality, and a three-week period aboard the RV Atlantis as an observer and outreach participant in the New Millennium Observatory (NeMO) Project along the Juan de Fuca Ridge. When Mr. LeBaron is not at school or wandering around other parts of the world, he can be found traveling with his wife (also a teacher), backpacking with Boy Scout Troop 162 of Mooresville, or checking up on his two sons.

Ross Powell - Researcher
Researcher
Northern Illinois University

Ross Powell has been a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Northern Illinois University since the early 1980's. His main research interests focus on processes where glaciers and ice sheets enter the sea, and his recent research has focused on Alaskan and Antarctic glacimarine processes and paleoclimate history involving underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROV's) among other scientific tools. He has played a lead role in the ANDRILL (Antarctic geological Drilling) Program and the WISSARD program, collecting sediment cores for the first time from a subglacial lake in Antarctica—Lake Whillans. He has mentored teachers in polar field research through the Cape Roberts and ANDRILL programs in Antarctica and the Svalbard REU program in the Arctic. He is also periodically a guest lecturer at the University Center (UNIS) on Svalbard.

John Priscu - Researcher
Researcher
Montana State University

John Priscu is a professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University. His research interest lies in life associated with Antarctic ice and its relationship to global change and astrobiology. Dr. Priscu heads the Priscu Research Group.

Slawek Tulaczyk - Researcher
Researcher
University of California Santa Cruz

Latest Journals

I hope that some of you check back here, because the big news is that the traverse to the final test site has taken off from McMurdo! They have a trip that will take them 10 to 12 days to complete. Check out the video link below- it's on facebook, so if you have school filters it may be blocked…
Yes, I did make it home. Here's a story of the trip and some pictures I took along the way. Happy Holidays to everyone who followed along. Going Home – Day One Today is Thursday, December 13. I know it’s time to leave because I’ve gotten an email from housing telling me to clean my room and…
Today the sun was back out, the wind was calm and the snow and ice of McMurdo Sound had regained the brilliance that we have become accustomed to here. It’s my last day in Antarctica – tomorrow I will board the LC-130 and head back home. Until that time though, I’m going to enjoy the time I have…
Hi to everyone! i just wanted to let you know that I've left McMurdo and am on the way home. Right now I'm in Sydney, Australia waiting for my flight to the U.S. It will be a 15 hour flight that takes me to Dallas, Texas. I'm NOT looking forward to the plane ride, but I'll be happy to be home…
The WISSARD project won’t be using helicopters, but many of the projects do. There is no way you can ignore them. They are thumping around in the sky all day long and the heliport area is just outside the Crary lab where I spend quite a bit of time. To learn more about helicopter operations in…
It occupies my mind, a foreign terrain Lit up by the sun’s rays, 24 hours of light Drawing my imagination south, pulling me toward them The mountains rise through layered clouds Strong, resolute, rising above ice, In stark relief against a blue, cloud streaked sky. Glaciers curve down…

Antarctic Sub Glacial Lake and Stream Studies Resources

Overview

Exploration of the Antarctic continent did not occur until the late 1800’s, and the South Pole was first reached on December 14, 1911. Courage, planning, and technology have been the main components of Antarctic exploration from the earliest days.

Lesson
Antarctic
More than a week
Middle School and Up
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Overview

Antarctica is the coldest, driest place on Earth with a fairly limited number of native species which have adapted to these extreme conditions over millions of years. As a result, it's not very likely that a non-native species would survive there . . . right?

Lesson
Antarctic
About a week
High school and Up
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This story in Discover magazine profiles the work of the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project team and the challenges faced by drilling thousands of feet into the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to reach a lake buried for millennia.

Article
Antarctic
All Aged
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Article about earth science and environmental science teacher Mike LeBaron's expedition to Antarctica as part of the WISSARD project (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Article
Antarctic
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National Geographic article about the WISSARD project that is studying subglacial lakes and streams in Antarctica.

Article
Antarctic
All Aged
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