Engineers hope to rescue polar drilling project
ENGINEERS believe they may be able to save the Bristol-led project to search for undiscovered life deep beneath the ice of Antarctica.
During the weekend a technical issue halted hot water drilling at subglacial Lake Ellsworth, where a team of scientists are attempting to drill 3.5km beneath the ice.
On Saturday, the field team encountered a serious problem with the main boiler that is used to generate the hot water required for drilling down to the lake.
Engineers are frantically working on site to try to save the project, which has been 16 years in the planning.
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A spokesman for the project said: "The primary burner controller circuit failed upon start up. A secondary burner was fitted and a new circuit was ordered to replace the primary one. The secondary burner ran successfully for four to five days – enough to melt the water required and to begin drilling the borehole for the cavity. Unfortunately, the burner failed at 3pm local time on Saturday.
"The replacement component is likely to be with the deep field team in a few days' time. In the meantime the engineering team is in contact with the manufacturers of the units who are helping them to determine the cause of the malfunction.
"A further option is to attempt to bypass the circuit and manually "drive" the burner. The team is discussing operating protocols with the manufacturer before exploring this option further."
It is unlikely that the team will resume drilling before Friday, though the team is working against the clock – they need to restart the drill before the borehole in the ice refreezes, as they only travelled with enough fuel for one complete attempt at drilling.
The team of 12 scientists, led by Bristol University's Professor Martin Siegert, are firing hot water at the ice to drill 3.5km beneath the surface – with the aim of inserting a specially-designed probe into the ice-locked Lake Ellsworth – a liquid water lake which has been hidden from the outside world for more than half a million years.
The water in the buried lake is kept liquid by heat from geothermal springs, and the scientists believe life may exist in this most remote environment.