New ice drilling technology provides graduate student research experience

With about three decades and 11 expeditions to Antarctica under his belt, John Goodge, a geological sciences professor from UMD, looks ahead to a groundbreaking expedition number 12. Goodge will be leading a team of researchers into East Antarctica—home to the continent’s thickest ice—with new technology known as “RAID” (Rapid Access Ice Drill).

“Our goal is to develop a rig that can be moved around quickly and can put a lot of holes in the ice,” Goodge explained. “This way, we can take cores of the bedrock below the ice.”

Until now, the oldest layers of ice that have ever been studied were about 750,000 years old. Goodge and his team look to reach million-year-old ice.

To travel to the depths of Antarctica’s ice, the team will need drilling rods that can sustain heavy wear and tear.

Frank Stenzel, a graduate engineering student at UMD, is part of the team’s research on campus.

“Our research involves testing lubricants for the threads in the drill rods,” Stenzel said.

Traveling about 13,000 feet into the ice will take approximately 433 30-foot rods. An important factor to consider with this kind of drilling is ensuring that the rods can withstand the torque necessary when tightened and loosened.

“If it is easy to break apart, then that is good,” Stenzel said. “After tightening the rods, being able to unscrew them is due to the lubricant.”

Stenzel’s original hope for the research was to use a room in the Civil Engineering Building.

“As it turns out, the room is better for heating than for cooling,” Stenzel said. “We need to test the lubricants in -40 degrees Celsius. We’ll be using a chest freezer from the department that can reach that low of a temperature with the help of dry ice.”

Stenzel plans to continue his research and will begin testing in one month.



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