​ Drilling project at Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, East Antarctica


The Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains (GSM), located in the central part of East Antarctica, below Dome A, the highest part of the Antarctic ice sheet, is among the most enigmatic features on Earth. The GSM may have served as a nucleation point for the first large-scale ice sheet that formed in Antarctica as the Earth’s climate cooled, roughly 34 Ma ago. The mechanism responsible for the uplift of the GSM in the middle of the old East Antarctic Shield is unknown. The only way to determine the age of the GSM and their origin is direct observation of the ice sheet bed by drilling.

Bed topography of Antarctica from Bedmap2 compilation

It is planed to choose a drill site with an ice thickness of at most 1000 m and to pierce the mountain slope to a depth of a few meters. All drilling equipment will be transported to the chosen site with crawler tractors and could be ready for drilling operations 2–3 days after arrival at the chosen site. The drilling facilities are divided into two groups: those associated with the movable drilling shelter and those associated with the movable workshop. The drilling shelter and workshop are connected by a steel pathway with an adjustable length of 2–3 m.

3D presentation of movable drilling shelter and workshop connected by bridge

To drill through ice and bedrock, a new, modified version of the cable-suspended Ice and Bedrock Electromechanical Drill – IBED – was designed and tested. The IBED drill has a modular construction that permits the accomplishment of three different tasks: (1) a large-diameter auger for dry core drilling in the upper snow–firn layers; (2) an ice-core drill with near-bottom fluid circulation; and (3) a bedrock core drill. The auxiliaries include a drilling winch with cable, a control desk, a pipe-screwing device, a pipe clamp, a chip chamber vibrator, a centrifuge, two ice-core processing tables, a workbench for the fitter’s work, a workbench with electric power tools, a lathe machine, a logging winch with a cable and two generators.

Auxiliaries arrangement in the drilling shelter and workshop

Most of the surface drilling equipment (drilling shelter, workshop and accessories) was designed and produced in 2014 and 2015 and transported and stored at the Zhongshan Station during the 2015–16 season. Drilling for bedrock on the GSM is planned as soon as full financial and logistical support is obtained for the project. The project is sponsored by National Science Foundation of China (project No. 41327804).

Copyright © 2019 Jilin University