“We’re Off to See the WISSARD” — test site that is!

“We’re Off to See the WISSARD” — test site, that is!

Written by Betty Trummel

I was very excited to speak with my 4th grade students back in Crystal Lake this morning. I had an early alarm today (4:50 am) and called them right at 5:00 am…10:00 am TUESDAY their time. Strange to think I’ve already lived that day! It was great to hear everyone’s voices. I really miss my students a lot!

I also want to include some fun photos of Sydney that Coral sent me yesterday. These are some of the very last photos of our little friend, before he was left near Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans.

Here is Sydney on the voyage to Antarctica. He’s looking out of his porthole on the Russian icebreaker.


This is a nice shot of Sydney near Terra Nova Bay, the bay at Cape Evans.


This is the last known photo of Sydney near Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans. Do you see the enormous Barne Glacier in the background? It’s a huge wall of ice, a glacier ending its journey over the continent by meeting the sea. I think Sydney already looks a bit lonely in this photograph. Maybe he knew something was about to happen and his life would change!


I took the 7:15 am shuttle from the bus stop at Derelict Junction (I love the funny names around town), and left McMurdo on a Delta bound for the WISSARD test site. Since a Delta is much slower than a van, the trip out took about 40 minutes. Here is a short video clip below that gives you an idea of what that ride was like.

The WISSARD test site has changed a lot in the past 10 days since my initial visit. The drilling deck has been erected and a tent assembled over the area surrounding where the actual drill hole will be. Work continues on wiring the generators and preparing the hoses for hot water drilling. Many plumbing and electrical tasks have been completed.

Containers are moved into position for the testing to begin. Weather has been good for the most part and the drillers, electricians, traverse crew, heavy equipment operators and technicians have put in many long hours to prepare this test site.

I became more familiar with several key components of our project today, and I’d like to begin sharing some of those things with you. I’m going to focus on just a few things today, since there is WAY too much going on here to report in one blog entry. I’ll tell you about this test site bit by bit in the next week or so.

The drilling system is quite large and full of many bits and pieces. The LARS (launch and recovery system) is one of the most obvious parts of this whole operation. The winch (reel with black cable wound around it) is called the multi-purpose winch. Inside of that black cable you’d find optical fibers, electrical conductors, and a woven steel wrap for load-bearing capability.


Mike (from DOER, I’ll explain that in a bit) is working on the LARS in the photo below.


This cable is used to deploy several of our instruments, including the percussion corer (which collects sediment samples), the IPSIE (Instrument Package for Sub-Ice Exploration), and the WIPSIE (water IPSIE). These instruments do things such as measure the current/flow rate, measure the amount of sediment suspended in the water, and take water samples. I’m sure I’m not giving you 100% of the information, but I don’t want to overwhelm you.

Under the place on the drilling deck where the actual drill hole will be, there is a device known as the “moon pool.” I’ve been hearing about this for over a week now and I was really curious to see what it was. It’s a rounded container that has UV (ultraviolet) lights inside of it. Those UV lights will pass through the white tubing used for our water supply for drilling, killing any bacteria that might be in the water. This is an example of clean drilling technology. The water is re-circulated, and reused providing clean drilling access throughout our process.

A crane lifts, moves, and places tools and equipment on the drilling deck. LARS deploys the instruments down the hole, and recovers them once data and/or samples are collected. That black cable on the LARS system is referred to as the umbilical chord, because it is the lifeline between the tools and the drilling deck. Without it, it’s not possible to recover the tools and equipment.


The hot water drill hose has two diameters. The hose with the larger diameter is used for the drill tip. The hose with the smaller diameter is used for the ice coring tool.


Notice the crescent-shaped attachment on the top of this container. It is used to feed the hot water hose at the drill site. It’s part of the LARS.


The drilling deck is bordered by containers on all sides. These house labs for scientists, work areas such as the NIU workshop in a 40 ft. container, the reels of hose for the hot water drill, and the command & control container. The command & control center includes computers that not only help operate the tools being deployed into the hole, but they retrieve the data that is collected by those tools.


Tim (NIU grad student) worked on wiring in the command and control container.


In the NIU workshop, tools that were developed by DOER (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) are being assembled and stored. DOER specializes in “Subsea Robotics and Submersible Systems.” This would be the IPSIE and WIPSIE, percussion corer, and the POP (Physical Instrument Package).



Some of these tools are so heavy that they are lifted by something called a gantry. That’s an overhead crane on rails, built inside of the container. This gantry helps lift the heavy sections of the tools for assembly.


We watched as a huge tractor shifted our NIU container just 6 inches closer to the drilling deck. Later the same tractor turned a different container completely around and backed it closer to the drilling deck. Everything is done with such precision. We have many experienced drillers, electricians, and heavy equipment operators on this project.


The same tractor turned this red container completely around and moved it closer to the drilling deck.


Look at how big the tracks are on this vehicle.  HUGE!


Our testing process near McMurdo will wrap up on or about December 21st. Things will be moving quickly once they begin hot water drilling and testing in a few days. One thing to remember is that this whole operation will be taken apart, packed up, and transported across the ice and snow to the Lake Whillans drill site about 500 miles from McMurdo Station.  I’ll tell you more about this traverse later in my blog posts.

Mt. Erebus was looking beautiful today as usual.  Notice the steam puffing out of the top of the volcano.


In closing, I’d like to share a photo for the students at Husmann Elementary School. Believe it or not, that’s ME standing by the white container in McMurdo, holding the Husmann banner. I couldn’t stand in the intersection because it was too dangerous with bulldozers and vehicles coming and going. But, I wanted you all to know I tried this like you asked me to. I miss my friends at Husmann! Please stay in touch!

Betty on Webcam

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