Ever wonder what we do down here? I mean, what gets us up in the morning and out the door?
Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s ice drilling.

We’ve been out in the field about three weeks, and have drilled eight ice holes.  Now, your average lake in Minnesota may get ~ 1 m of ice growth in the winter. The lakes I used to drill in the Arctic had about 2-2.5 m of ice. All of this ice melts in the summer, and new ice forms each winter.

In the Dry Valleys, the ice does not melt during the ‘summer’, it only thins by ~1 m. In November, the ice ranges from 3.5-4.5 m thick and can be embedded with thin sediment lenses that are a joy to drill though. Since the ice doesn’t completely melt, sediment accumulates on the surface over the years, and can penetrate downward in the ice when it absorbs solar radiation.

We use the exact same equipment your neighborhood ice fisherman uses back home, except we use five extensions and chew through blades like they’re the frozen snickers bars you’ve been hoarding since leaving town.  A 5″ hole can take an hour to drill if you’re lucky, and a 10″ hole in -20ºC ice (which is like rock) can take… well, we try not to add up the hours.

Enjoy the jubilant and frustrated faces of drilling:


Not recommended, but necessary if snow is filling the hole.

Bottom or bust.

New blade top. Rounded old blade bottom.

The reward? Well other than Snickers, it’s the ability to drop your underwater camera and view the breathtaking microbial mats that grow in the shallower area of the lakes.

The reward.


8 responses to “Drilling”

  1. Celia says :

    Don’t you get core samples too? How do you get them?

  2. Jim Dugan says :

    You tell the story well

  3. MaryBee says :

    A very deep subject….

  4. Marian Cronin says :

    fascinating…thanks for sharing!

  5. KK says :

    So what you’re saying is…you don’t want to have to drill a dozen of those holes if you freeze an expensive piece of equipment in the bottom of the ice? Lesson learned??

    I’m jealous of your mats too.

  6. Lulu says :

    Nice post! I actually had no idea what you did down there. I just assumed you were on vacation.

  7. Katie W. says :

    That’s so awesome! Love the pictures and the play by play 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s