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?
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?
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.
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 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.