New Geotechnnical Drilling Applications for Water-Saturated Soils

idras geotechnical core drilling services

Custom Engineered Scientific Drilling Tools for IDRAS Offer New Geotechnical Drilling Applications

idras geotechnical core drilling servicesWhen developing the custom core drilling equipment for the scientific drilling IDRAS project that enables quality core drilling services in water-saturated soils while leaving the water in situ, it was clear the new technology would also offer benefits in geotechnical drilling applications.  When designing, engineering and fabricating custom equipment, DOSECC engineers always seek to extend the extend its capability beyond the immediate apparent demands of the project to expand study capabilities across other disciples as well.

For example, when designing custom equipment to drill at any remote location, our team does not always have data to verify exactly how hard a rock is anticipated to meet the needs of the research,  so we fabricate the equipment to be able to drill through harder materials and collect core from more consolidated clays than anticipated.    In the case of IDRAS, it will likely be primarily sands or organic sediments, and may not require penetration of anything harder than clay material, yet the DOSECC team must factor in the uncertainty.  In addition, there are other geotechnical drilling applications for this tool that may require the equipment be prepared for harder soils.  As a result, the team has prepared the equipment for much harder soils and rock as part of the IDRAS project.

Accurately Measuring Soil Bearing Capacity with Geotechnical Drilling

When geotechnical engineers are tasked with determining the property of the soils which will support a new structure, the tool originally developed for IDRAS now may allow those researchers to better evaluate the saturation level of the sands they encounter.   With sand material, the soil bearing capacity fluctuates widely depending on the water saturation.  The sand alone may have a bearing capacity that is compromised by 2 or 3 times due to the water saturation.

Currently, geotechnical engineers use what call an SPT or CPT technology and then are left with making inferences as to how water affects the soil bearing-conditions. The geotechnical drilling tool DOSECC has  custom-developed for the IDRAS project may give them more of a direct approach to more readily make accurate assessments.

For more information on geotechnical drilling capabilities, including custom design, engineering, and fabrication of new drilling technologies, please contact us.


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IDRAS – International Drilling for the Recovery of Aquifer Sands

idras scientific drilling map

IDRAS Scientific Drilling Project Overview

The International Drilling for the Recovery of Aquifer Sands, or “IDRAS” Project, is a current DOSECC scientific drilling project that requires DOSECC’s unique capabilities of custom engineering and fabrication of a unique drilling tool.  The DOSECC team was tasked with providing geoscience researchers the ability to drill core samples in soft sediments that are saturated with water, with the water left in situ and undisturbed in the sample.  The ultimate goal of this tool is to allow researchers on the IDRAS project to better analyze high arsenic groundwater in Southeast Asia, including India, Vietnam, and Bangledesh, that poses a significant health risks.

idras scientific drilling map


Project Update: As of October, 2016, the custom-fabricated drilling equipment has been successfully tested at DOSECC headquarters and will next undergo a second test drill an area of the Great Salt Lake that offers similar soil saturation conditions as those to be tested in Southeast Asia. This proofing test will provide validation that the system will meet the goals on the ground in Asia. Earlier tests allowed the design team to make adjustments to the original tool design to optimize the performance of the tool and change some features before this next round of testing.

Project Details

Elevated groundwater arsenic (As) concentrations impact the health of over 100 million villagers across Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China who rely on tube wells as their main source of drinking water. This ICDP project, likely to be the first of several devoted to groundwater quality over the next decade, seeks to identify the limited set of parameters that need to be considered in order to make meaningful predictions about the vulnerability of a low-As aquifer in the absence of a full-scale study. This is a crucial question from a public health perspective because selectively tapping low-As aquifers is the most effective way of lowering As exposure.

idras geotechnical core drilling servicesAs a first step towards this goal, proponents from 16 different countries will drill an unconsolidated aquifer in the US that is elevated in As. A new tool under development, the freeze-shoe sampler, will be deployed to recover groundwater in contact with aquifer sands from the same depth by sealing the bottom of a coring tube by in situ freezing. Participants, including 9 from affected Asia countries whose travel to the drill site is supported by the project, will process cores collected at three sites with the freeze-shoe sampler on-site in a mobile geomicrobiology laboratory where a suite of labile sediment and groundwater properties will be measured. In addition to setting the stage for future deployments of the freezeshoe sampler in Asia, the new data will shed light on the release of As to groundwater caused by the reductive dissolution of iron (Fe) oxyhydroxides, a process that is mediated by micro-organisms involved in the mineralization of reactive organic carbon.

The freeze-shoe sampler has been developed under separate funding from the U. S. National Science Foundation.  DES has performed this work under a subcontract from Columbia University.  Freeze-shoe technology is being adapted for use on DES’s suite of soft sediment sampling tools that have been used for many years to collect long cores in modern lakes.  This project is the first field test of these new tools.

A Multi-Disciplinary Project

The DOSECC project is led by Lead Project Engineer and Project Manager Brian Grzybowski. He reports:

“I’ve enjoyed working on the project because it spans a pretty broad range of engineering disciplines.  With the freeze properties, it involves the heat transfer and thermodynamics of freezing the core.  It involves electrical control systems, integration, and thermal science and HVCF applications.  Plus, the system has all equipment on board, so when we send it down-hole it is an independent assembly that functions remotely down there, so it must be designed as a stand-alone system.  We have the added challenge of requiring that it be able to survive the downhole conditions of low temperature and high pressure.  When we send the tool downhole on the wire line, and it acts as a hypodermic needle, so it collects a core sample below what the bit has disturbed.  This allows us to collect a 5’ long core sample undisturbed by the drilling process. We freeze 6” at the tip contained inside of a plastic, polycarbonate liner, then we pull it off the drill coring system and transfer it to the researchers at that point.  They then can employ a system that can freeze the top of the core and allow it to be put it into refrigeration storage vertically to avoid the water changing orientation.”

A number of key DOSECC staff members have collaborated on this effort to bring a wide array of expertise and backgrounds to bear in order to solve a unique geoscientific problem for the first time.  From field and drilling experience and engineering design to fabrication capability and geotechnical experience, our wide range of staff members and associates enables DOSECC to bring a great deal of experience to bear for the development of the product.


Learn more about the geotechnical drilling applications of the custom equipment designed for IDRAS.

Read more about this scientific drilling project at ICDP.

Related Publication: International Drilling to Recover Aquifer Sands (IDRAs) and Arsenic Contaminated Groundwater in Asia by Alexander van Geen, 12/6/2011


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Surtsey Volcano, Iceland

Surtsey Volcano

Surtsey Volcano


Dr. Marie Jackson, University of Utah

Surtsey Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site located off the south coast of Iceland.  This protected island is recognized worldwide as a natural laboratory for investigating processes of rift zone volcanism, hydrothermal alteration and biological colonization of basaltic tephra, and development of industrial resources using palagonitic tuff as a prototype for sustainable, high performance concretes.

An 181m hole was drilled in 1979 (Jakobsson & Moore 1986) and provided a petrological, mineralogical, and thermal framework to understand early eruptive and hydrothermal processes in tephra and feeder dikes and the structure of the volcano above and below sea level. Subsurface microbiota have now been observed in fluids extracted below the 120 °C thermal barrier of microbial life.

In 2016, DOSECC was retained as part of the SUSTAIN drilling program (Surtsey Underwater volcanic System for Thermophiles, Alteration processes and INnovative concretes) to core  two  holes while protecting the sensitive wildlife and vegetative habitats of the Surtsey Natural Reserve. A clean, 200-meter-deep vertical hole with anodized aluminum casing will be  used to explore pore water chemistry, microbiota-water- rock interactions, and seawater compositional modifications over time.

After drilling is complete, a Surtsey Subsurface Observatory will be installed in this hole for long term monitoring and in situ experiments. A 300-meter- long angle hole with steel casing inclined west toward the eastern volcanic vent axis will intersect dike intrusions, provide additional information on deep stratigraphy and structure, and investigate higher temperature zones of the hydrothermal system.

The SUSTAIN drilling program will be the first to sample microbial colonization of tephra, together with its pore water, through a neo-volcanic island from the surface to the seafloor with all precautions taken to avoid contamination from the surroundings. The subseafloor pressure at the Surtsey Microbial Observatory at 0.2 km depth will be lower than that typical of the neovolcanic zone of mid-ocean ridges at ~2.5 km depth. More phase separation (boiling) can therefore occur in this shallow environment at temperatures relevant to microbial metabolism.

Because many of the energy-rich substances capable of supporting autotrophic life (e.g. H 2 , H 2 S, CH 4 ) partition into the vapor phase, there may be higher redox gradients and more spatial diversity in microhabitats in this environment compared to those on the ridge crest. Studies of microbial colonization of the altered subterrestrial tephra and hydrothermal fluids could provide new insights into archaeal lineages in the very young biosphere and, possibly, contribute to understanding the nature of the archaeal ancestor of eukaryotic organisms.

The Surtsey hydrothermal system is one of the few localities worldwide that is actively producing a rare authigenic Al-tobermorite and zeolite assemblage (Jakobsson and Moore, 1986). Tobermorite, Ca 5 Si 6 O 16 (OH) 2 ·4H 2 O, with 11 Å c-axis interlayer spacing, is formed by the action of hydrous fluids on basic igneous rocks. It also occurs among the alteration products at the cement–rock interface of toxic and nuclear waste repositories. It is a candidate sorbent for nuclear and hazardous waste encapsulation owing to its ion-exchange behavior which arises from the facile replacement of labile interlayer cations.

Al-tobermorite and phillipsite also occur as the principal cementitious mineral phases in the volcanic ash-lime mortar of 2000-year-old Roman concrete harbor structures. Little is known about how hydrothermal chemistry and phase-stability relationships in Al-tobermorite and zeolite mineral assemblages evolve as a function of time, temperature, fluid interactions, and microbial activity. The new cores will therefore provide a real-time geologic analog for understanding the evolving microstructures and macroscopic physical properties of tuff and sustainable concrete prototypes with pozzolanic pyroclastic rocks under the variable hydrothermal conditions of the engineered barriers of waste repositories.

Deepening of the inclined hole may resolve the disparity in the two models regarding the width of the subseafloor diatreme structure underneath Surtsey, and possibly intersect the outer wall of the diatreme if it is sufficiently narrow. Analyses of core from the inclined hole should also provide information about how the onset of fragmentation, submarine transport of tephra, and deposition in the submarine environment differs from what is represented in subaerial deposits.

The extent to which Surtsey’s activity was predominantly phreatomagmatic, versus the degree to which it involved substantial volatile-driven magmatic explosivity has important implications for predicting potential hazards to air traffic from future Surtseyan-type eruptions. These processes can be clarified with rigorous analysis of deposits combined with experiments using remelted material from the island.

The unique and distinguishing feature of the drilling program is to apply volcanological, geochemical, mineralogical, microbiological and geoarchaeological perspectives to create a new diagenetic and biogenetic paradigm for pyroclastic rock concretes with cation-exchange properties and long term societal benefits for human and earth ecology.  Drilling is expected to take place in the summer of 2017.

Related Publications

Jakobsson, S., and Moore, J. G. (1986) Hydrothermal minerals and alteration rates at Surtsey volcano, Iceland. GSA Bulletin, 97, 648–659.

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Lake Challa, Kenya

Lake Challa Scientific Drilling Project


Professor Dirk Verschuren, University of Ghent

In late 2016, DOSECC will participate in the DeepCHALLA project in conjunction with the ICDP, the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.  The project will  require our team to obtain core samples through open-water drilling on Lake Challa, a volcanic crater lake on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. The water body is fed by groundwater from Mount Kilimanjaro and is surrounded by a 100 metres high crater rim, requiring unique considerations for the design, systems engineering, and staff training necessary to obtain quality core samples.

Climate records obtained through sub-tropical cores are compared to those taken in polar regions to determine climate variations. Climate records previously available required the data additional samples from an equatorial region could provide in order to better map historical global climate patterns.  Lake Challa’s location provided an ideal location due to the convergence of both northern and southern hemisphere monsoon activity and the zone of convection between Atlantic and Indian Ocean moisture sources.

The goal of this project was to drill a quality core sample that would clearly show climate and ecosystem conditions over the past 250,000 years.  This span would encompass two full glacial-interglacial cycles and the entire known existence of modern humans in East Africa. The climate record’s length, in tandem with excellent sediment conditions, creates an unprecedented opportunity to better understand climate variability and record extremes and weather events.


  1. Reconstruct two glacial-interglacial cycles of tropical monsoon dynamics over the western Indian Ocean.
  2. Document long-term biodiversity patterns and ecological dynamics of a tropical savanna ecosystem in response to changes in atmospheric CO2, temperature, moisture balance, and fire.
  3. Reconstruct the long-term dynamics of a tropical freshwater ecosystem (nutrient budget, aquatic productivity) in response to climate-driven changes.
  4. Show exactly how often, when, and how much the East African landscape has changed throughout the entire existence of anatomically modern humans

Not only is this project designed to better understand and predict climate and ecosystem variations, it provides critical data in the study of why early human ancestors expanded from Africa into the Middle East and Eurasia ~100,000 years ago.

Read more about this scientific drilling project at ICDP .

November 2016 Lake Challa Scientific Drilling Project Update


Preparing for Chicxulub: A Time Lapse of the Load

Preparing for a historic core drilling services project is no easy task.  Watch our team prepare the core drilling rig and all project equipment to be shipped to the Chicxulub drilling site.   Read more about this core drilling project here.


A Birds-Eye View of the Rig at Chicxulub, DOSECC Core Drilling Services

Get a birds-eye view of the full core drilling rig used for the historic Chicxulub Crater scientific drilling project.  Read more about this project here.

Best Practices in the Development of Scientific Drilling Projects, Cohen & Nielson, 2003

Best Practices in the Development of Scientific Drilling Projects, Cohen & Nielson, 2003

DOSECC President Dennis Nielson contributed to this publication in 2003.


Continental Scientifi
c Drilling has an
established record in advancing the earth
sciences. The Continental Scientifi
c Drilling
Program was carried out in the
U.S. between 1985 and 1994 and has
been succeeded by the International
Continental Scientifi
c Drilling Program.
Currently, projects of national and
international interest are underway, and
c drilling on continents and
oceans is not as clearly separated as it
once was. The process of developing
a scientifi
c drilling project, particularly
one of international scope, is complex and
both scientists and funding agencies need to
understand the practical requirements that lead
to success.
In an effort to provide input to funding agencies
concerning the scientist’s perspective of the proposal
process and to provide a road map for scientists
contemplating a scientifi
c drilling proposal, DOSECC
convened a workshop in May 2003 to address Best
Practices in the Development of Scientifi
c Drilling
Projects. This report defi
nes the stages from initial
concept through the post-drilling activities, and
presents recommendations that will be of interest for
proponents of scientifi
c drilling projects, particularly
those that will have international participation.
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Chicxulub Project Watched Around the World

scientific research


With the successful conclusion of the high-profile Chicxulub Crater project last month, we are sharing here the kudos the project team received from around the world.  The Chicxulub core drilling project sought to shed light on the crater left by the asteroid that led to a global mass extinction—what geophysicist and expedition leader Joanna Morgan called “The most important event in the last 100 million years.” The drilling was recognized and photographed by journalists and scientists from around the world, the Governor of Yucatan, and even an astronaut orbiting the earth.  


You can read more about the project here.



Here are just a few excerpts of the coverage:

Discover Magazine: How We Found the Dinosaur Doomsday Site (March 23, 2016)

“In the coming weeks, a team of scientists will begin drilling Chicxulub’s central peak ring for the first time. Discover will be on site in Mexico as the team tries to answer some of those questions.”


NATURE: Geologists Drill into Heart of Dinosaur-Killing Impact (March 31, 2016)

“‘All of this happened in the span of several devastating minutes, says Joanna Morgan, a geophysicist at Imperial College London and the project’s co-chief scientist. ‘It’s astounding.’”


SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: What Really Killed the Dinosaurs? (April 4, 2016)

“An extraordinary vessel—part ship and part drilling rig —is being equipped in the port of Progreso, Mexico, to drill into Earth’s past. This spring and summer it will attempt to recover a thin cylinder of rock, 3 ¼ inches wide by 3,300 feet long, starting in the Eocene world about 50 million years ago, drilling all the way back into rocks created and contorted by an asteroid impact, 66 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared.”


WASHINGTON POST: 66 million years ago an asteroid destroyed the dinosaurs. Now scientists are drilling into the crater it made to understand how.  (April 6, 2016)

“The Chicxulub crater, as the site is known, is buried in sediment and hidden beneath some 1,500 feet of water. That makes it very hard to study, even though it’s ground zero of one of the worst mass extinctions in Earth’s history, one of just five times when life itself out on the planet was in danger of being snuffed.”


NPR: Scientists Set To Drill Into Extinction-Event Crater In Mexico (April 8, 2016)

“In addition to being interesting from an extinction element, it’s also interesting because it’s a well-preserved, very large crater that we can access without leaving the planet. It’s equivalent to studying the really big craters with peak rings, for instance, on the moon, on Mercury, on Mars — but obviously at a fraction of the cost.”

—Sean Gulick, University of Texas at Austin geophysicist, team co-lead


PHYS.ORG: How Does an Invisible Underwater Crater Prove an Asteroid Killed the Dinosaurs? (April 14, 2016)

“A team of scientists recently set off to drill a 1,500m-deep hole into the seabed off the coast of Mexico. Their goal is to learn more about the asteroid impact some 66m years ago that many scientists believe killed the dinosaurs.”


YUCATAN TIMES: International Scientific Expedition Drilling off the Yucatan Coast (April 2016)

“Drillers will quickly bore their way through the top 500 metres of sediments, and then collect core samples more carefully as they go deeper…At about 600 metres, the core will pass through rock from the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, when temperatures spiked about 55 million years ago, creating a greenhouse world. At 650 metres the core should hit the peak ring.”


NPR: Geologists Find Clues In Crater Left By Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid (May 6, 2016)

“We went through a remarkable amount of the post-impact world. All the way into the Eocene times — so between 50 and 55 million years ago.”

—Sean Gulick, University of Texas at Austin geophysicist, team co-lead


YUCATAN.COM  There’s Life in the Chicxulub Crater (May 17, 2016)
“The first results of the Chicxulub crater project are encouraging with valuable clues, say scientists of Mission 364.” English version here –



BBC: Chicxulub ‘Dinosaur’ Crater Drill Project Declared a Success (May 25, 2016)

“”It’s been a remarkable success. We’ve got deeper than I thought we might do,”
—Dave Smith, British Geological Survey


TIM PEAKE, Astronaut at the International Space Station, Facebook

“66 million years ago a 14-km wide asteroid struck this part of Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs. Asteroid Day. Looking north-east at the most eastern part of Mexico, Yucatan and Cancún.”


   Credit: Tim Peake


“Outstanding job and congratulations to the DOSECC folks!”

—Javier Zevallos – General Manager Mexico & Central America, AMC Drilling Fluids & Products