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Scientists Extract 500,000-Year-Old Ice Core from Borehole Above Antarctica’s Lake Vostok

Восток
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Вид на станцию Восток с вершины бурового комплекса им. Б.Б.Кудряшова

Its study will provide new insights into climate change.

On Thursday, January 27, representatives of St. Petersburg Mining University—part of the seasonal glaciological drilling team conducting scientific research at Vostok station in Antarctica—contacted the editorial board of Forpost to tell about the progress of drilling operations. As noted by the polar explorers, two days ago they managed to collect a core formed 500 thousand years ago, at a depth of 3413 meters (the surface of the subglacial reservoir is located 350 meters below).

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© Форпост Северо-Запад

“Ancient ice core was obtained from borehole 5G-5 by employees of Mining University, Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), and the KOPRI institute in Korea. So far, we have extracted 100 meters of the core material. There are still approximately 3 days of drilling work in 3 shifts of 8 hours each. We plan to pass about 20 meters more. Time left till our departure will be spent on a geophysical survey of the well to monitor the dynamics of changes in its parameters, maintenance of main and auxiliary equipment, and conservation of Boris Kudryashov drilling complex,” says Alexey Bolshunov, head of the scientific party of St. Petersburg State University.

The unique ice, formed 5 thousand centuries ago, as well as slightly younger samples of 400-450 thousand years old, is now in the core storage, located in the vicinity of the drilling complex. The cylinders are being studied by AARI specialists.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / На фото: Научная станция Восток. Кернохранилище
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© Форпост Северо-Запад

“Antarctica’s glaciers are the oldest on Earth, they accumulate paleoclimatic information, allowing not only to reconstruct our planet’s climate but also to make predictions about its changes in the future. To extract data we need ice core material, which can be obtained by drilling deep wells in the ice massifs,” explained the importance of scientific research being conducted on the White Continent, associate professor of the Department of Borehole Drilling of St. Petersburg Mining University Andrei Dmitriev.

As Vyacheslav Kadochnikov, a leading engineer of the oldest technical school in Russia, said, for the most accurate prediction climatologists need to understand the direction in which our civilization will develop. For example, how the population of the Earth will change, which technogenic factors affecting the environment will disappear, and which, on the contrary, will begin to affect nature in the near future.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Сербин Д.В. и Кадочников В.Г. извлекают керн с глубины 3380 метров

“In the second half of January, a 30-meter deep well was drilled in the vicinity of Vostok station with full core sampling. It is part of a network of shallow wells designed to study the climate of our planet over the past 2 thousand years. Comparative analysis of ancient ice with material formed already in our era allows us to better understand what significance in the process of climate change is played by man-made impact, and what importance natural factors have in the process of climate change. For example, volcanic eruptions, which have always influenced and continue to influence the Earth’s carbon cycle,” says Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

This season, the construction of the well was used not only to solve glaciological problems but also to carry out research work aimed at creating a new technology for drilling snow-firn horizons (the upper ones) of the glaciers with the purification of the face with air. This innovation was developed at St. Petersburg Mining University and should now be “tested” in harsh field conditions. Profile research to be conducted in Antarctica is part of the dissertation work of postgraduate student Dmitry Vasilyev (this season the university has sent two postgraduate students to the Sixth Continent at once, who in the future should ensure the continuity of generations).

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Большунов А.В. и Игнатьев С.А. при проведении спускоподъемных операций
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© Форпост Северо-Запад

“The snow-firn sludge, i.e. the product of rock destruction during drilling, will be used for experiments related to their transportation with compressed air. We will conduct them at the end of the season at Vostok station at the stand developed at Mining University’s educational and experimental workshops under the guidance of their head Alexey Usypko. The obtained results will allow us to formulate the technical specifications for designing a drilling tool for the created technology,” summarized Dmitry Vasiliev.

The solution to the mystery of climate change is in Antarctica

Let us remind you that the only Russian inland Vostok research station in Antarctica was founded in 1957. Seven years later, the famous geomorphologist Andrei Kapitsa, who conducted seismic sounding of the ice sheet, assumed that there is a huge lake under it. This theory was finally confirmed in the late 1980s, after which scientists began purposeful drilling, which was to reveal the body of water, isolated from the Earth’s atmosphere for millions of years (its surface is at a depth of 3769 meters). So far our polar explorers have managed twice, in 2012 and 2015, to penetrate Lake Vostok and take unique samples there.

In general, drilling to study the processes associated with climate change began in Antarctica in 1970. All necessary equipment for this was created by scientists of the Leningrad Mining Institute (now - St. Petersburg Mining University) under the leadership of Boris Kudryashov, who was the author of the theory of rock drilling by fusion, as well as thermal and mechanical destruction of ice. Today the drilling complex at Vostok station is named after him. This name is on all maps of the world, regardless of which countries they are printed in.