UMD's $8.75 Million Drilling Project to Unlock Secrets in Ice
The project will take place in East Antarctica, the planet's coldest and harshest climate. The terrain there looks like the ocean, with swells of white snow and blue ice. John Goodge and his team will spend 15 months over five years, taking core samples two miles into the earth, in search of clues to the earth's atmosphere as it existed a million or more years ago.
Professor John Goodge, in UMD's Earth and Environmental Sciences department, has led scientific expeditions to Antarctica 11 times, but this project is his most extensive. "No one has ever tried drilling into the deep ice like this at either pole," said Goodge. "We will get deeper and older paleoclimate records, possibly a million to a million and a half years old. We are searching for the oldest ice ever found. We're also hopeful we can reach the geological formations at the base of the ice sheet; they've never been reached before."
The team isn't after the ice itself, it's looking for ancient samples of atmospheric gas, volcanic ash and sediment. “As snow falls, pockets of air mix with the snow. As this snow compresses into ice, the air pockets inside become trapped as gas bubbles, and each year's snowfall adds another layer,” Goodge explained. Century after century of falling snow has created the biggest mass of freshwater ice in the world. Thin ash layers can help to date the ice and confirm its old age.
The funding came from the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Goodge is the lead principal investigator on the project. He studies geotectonic evolution of continental crust in East Antarctica and the origins of the Transantarctic Mountains. Jeff Severinghaus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, co-principal investigator, conducts research on Antarctic paleoclimate by studying ice cores. Alexandra Isern, program officer at the NSF, oversaw funding of the initial project and coordinated the external technical review of the proposed construction plan.