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Antarctic project with Minnesota ties has fast ice drill for climate research

An Antarctic research project with close ties to the University of Minnesota Duluth has reached a major milestone in its quest to gather new scientific information from the depths of the ice-locked continent.

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The Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) tower is enclosed by a fabric tent, which will protect the drillers from harsh Antarctic weather. The recently-completed drill is set to be shipped to Antarctica this month, as part of a major research project involving the University of Minnesota Duluth. (Photo by John Goodge / UMD)

An Antarctic research project with close ties to the University of Minnesota Duluth has reached a major milestone in its quest to gather new scientific information from the depths of the ice-locked continent.

The Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) - which researchers say will dramatically reduce the time required to bore deep into ice sheets - has been completed and is scheduled to be shipped to Antarctica this month.

It'll be put to use as part of a research project involving researchers from UMD and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. John Goodge, an earth and environmental sciences professor at UMD, is co-leader of the project that received a $9 million grant last year from the Division of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation.

RAID will be used to conduct research on several fronts - paleoclimatology, or the study of past climate conditions, in this case using ancient ice and the air bubbles trapped inside it; glaciology, including the study of ice flow; and geology, including the collection of bedrock samples to better learn how Antarctica fits with other continents.

The interface between ice sheets and the bedrock below is also a focus of the research.

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The new drilling system is mobile and capable of boring through both ice and bedrock at speeds much faster than previous efforts; it will allow scientists to make several bore holes in one field season - a feat never done before.

RAID "represents a significant technological step forward for glaciological, paleoclimate and geological research," Goodge said in a news release.

"No one has ever tried drilling into the deep ice like this at either pole. We will get deeper and older paleoclimate records, possibly a million to a million and a half years old. We're also hopeful we can reach the geological formations at the base of the ice sheet; they've never been seen before."

Construction of the drilling system started in mid-2014, UMD reported. The university received RAID on Nov. 5 in Utah, from the contractor responsible for its development.

After it arrives in Antarctica, initial testing of the drilling system will take place during the 2016-17 field season near McMurdo Station.

The RAID system will allow drilling through ice nearly 11,000 feet thick.

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A shipping container filled with Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) equipment. The drill, part of a project involving the University of Minnesota Duluth, should dramatically reduce the time required to bore deep into ice sheets in Antarctica. (Photo by John Goodge / UMD)

2211564+121815.N.DNT_.Antarctica2.jpg
A shipping container filled with Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) equipment. The drill, part of a project involving the University of Minnesota Duluth, should dramatically reduce the time required to bore deep into ice sheets in Antarctica. (Photo by John Goodge / UMD)

Related Topics: SCIENCE
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