Things Are Really Heating Up…at the WISSARD Test Site!

Things Are Really Heating Up…at the WISSARD Test Site!

Written by Betty Trummel


Hello from McMurdo Station!  Wherever you are in the world, thanks for checking in with me today!

Since so many of you enjoyed the post from yesterday about the Crary Lab aquarium, I thought I’d include a short video I filmed this morning. Watch how the sea star moves…it was much quicker than I expected.

Susan, Dave, Rob and I traveled to the WISSARD test site by snowmobile today.  It was a fun way to get out there, but I have to say that the snow road is quite uneven and rough right now due to warmer temperatures, melting, and the way it gets torn up by vehicles repeatedly traveling over that surface.  The light was also extremely “flat” which means it was quite difficult to see the definition in the snow…piles or ruts in the surface were hard to make out.  It meant that often we were tilting from side to side as the snowmobiles adjusted to the uneven terrain.  Still, getting outdoors and to the test site was a welcome change from being inside of Crary Lab all day!

Here we are (Dave and I), ready to begin our journey from the Scott Base transition area onto the ice shelf.


Things are heating up…at the WISSARD test site!  Today marked the beginning of the process of melting snow for the hot water drill system.  This process is important, because the drillers need a large supply of hot water to complete the drilling.  It all starts with this huge pile of snow shown below.


Dennis, the Chief Driller for the WISSARD Hot Water Drill System (HWDS), carefully supervised this process.


The snow is dumped into the melter.


I took a peek inside the open melter…lots of coils and hoses!


The water is stored in the large red tank, which is modified from a dairy tank made in Wisconsin.



Frank Rack, P.I. (Principal Investigator) and Executive Director at the ANDRILL Science Management Office told me that the water supply would reach 3,700 gallons of hot water.  The task of melting snow to reach this amount of water takes several hours.  This hot water eventually gets re-circulated as the hot water drilling takes place.  Frank looks on as one of the driller works in a container that houses part of the hot water drilling equipment.


“The primary scientific objective the WISSARD Project is to gain access to the subglacial environments beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the vicinity of the Whillans Ice Plain through the use of a hot water drill system (HWDS) and deploy scientific instruments through the borehole to explore these subglacial environments.”   (from:

The WISSARD Project requires a hot water drilling system that is pretty mobile and can be used in a deep field situation.  This test site is preparing our WISSARD team for the drilling system and scientific tools to be used at the deep field site in January.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been involved in the WISSARD Project because they completed the design, testing and deployment of a hot water drill system that could be towed into the deep field camp.

The WISSARD hot water drill system will provide access to sub-glacial (under a glacier) and sub-ice shelf (under an ice shelf) environments, through ice in Antarctica that is up to approximately 1,000 meters thick.

Ross Powell, my lead PI was out at the WISSARD test site today, checking on progress and working with his Northern Illinois University (NIU) science team and the guys from DOER (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) on tools that will be deployed into the borehole next week.


Remember, these tools and pieces of equipment will be assembled inside of our NIU container.



I hope (be patient) that you can all load this video to hear Ross talk about WISSARD and what we are trying to accomplish with this project.

We rode back to McMurdo Station (about 9 miles to Scott Base, then a short truck ride to McMurdo) at about 7pm…dinner time!  Stay tuned for more science and action with WISSARD…coming to you very soon.  Have a great day!


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