In 2015, DOSECC began a multi-year project to explore the bedrock beneath glacial ice in Antarctica, the Rapid Access Ice Drill, or RAID. The project was undertaken with the University of Minnesota Duluth with funding from the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The development of a mechanical drilling system that can rapidly drill through the ice sheet and core the base of the ice sheet and underlying bedrock is a high priority for developing an understanding of the impact of climate change in this area of the world. For this purpose, characterizing and mapping continental bedrock beneath the Antarctic ice sheet is a fundamental goal of NSF’s Antarctic Program. However, drilling to the base of the ice using existing drilling equipment has been a slow process that has required multiple working seasons.
The goal of the Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) is to rapidly drill a thick section (2,500 m) of Antarctic ice and collect core samples of the transition zone and underlying bedrock. The RAID system is designed to drill five or six holes in a two-month drilling season. The drilling will take place in a remote area, and the RAID will operate autonomously.
In order to accomplish this, DOSECC Exploration Services designed and built an entirely new drilling system. RAID includes five different components: drill skid, rod skid, fluid recirculation system (FRS), power unit, and shop and supply container. In Antarctica, these units will be mounted on skis for transport across the ice.
In the design process, we chose to use off-the-shelf components to the extent possible. This allows us to apply proven technology, and has the additional advantage of optimizing servicing and spare parts. We also incorporated the requirements of working at 3000-4000 meters elevation and temperatures of -50 degrees centigrade. In addition, the system will be towed across the ice, and it must be tough enough to withstand vibrations and torque.
In all, the complex design and fabrication components required for this project represented one of the most rigorous to date by the DOSECC team.