New technique for access-borehole drilling in shelf glaciers using lightweight drills

V. Zagorodnov, S. Tyler, D. Holland, A. Stern, L. G. Thompson, C. Sladek, S. Kobs, J. P. Nicolas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes a new, environmentally friendly drilling technique for making shortand long-term access boreholes in shelf glaciers using lightweight drills. The new drilling technique was successfully developed for installation of small-diameter sensors under the Ross Ice Shelf through ∼193m thick ice at Windless Bight, McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica. The two access boreholes were drilled and sensors installed in 110 working hours. The total weight of the drilling equipment including the power system and fuel is <400 kg. Installation of small-diameter sensors was possible for 1.8-6 hours after penetration through the glacier into the sea water beneath. The new drilling technique does not require drilling fluid and therefore has minimal environmental impact. It should permit access through ice-shelf ice up to 350m thick, or glaciers on grounded ice or subglacial lakes if there is no water-permeable interface at the base. Modifications, presented in this work, of the drilling equipment and protocol will allow for (1) ∼ 21 working hours for penetration through 200m of ice, (2) installation of sensors up to 120mm in diameter and (3) drilling long-term open boreholes through 400m thick ice in 100 working hours.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-944
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number223
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Glaciological instruments and methods
  • Ice coring
  • Ice shelves
  • Ice temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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