So drill, ye tarriers, drill
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Oh it’s work all day for the sugar in your tay
– 19th century American folk song “Drill ye Tarriers Drill”-
There is one thing that separates men and beasts – men have always dreamed to achieve greatness while beasts just follow their instinct to survive (Disclaimer: “men” here refer to the entire Homo sapiens species, including female Homo sapiens – I think “men and beasts” just sounds more poetic than “human and beasts”). Anyway, as evidenced by Lord Byron’s and many of his contemporaries’ poems, we’re always striving to climb the highest mountain peak, sail across the most dangerous oceans, and conquer all the harshest places on Earth. I personally would put another bullet point in the bucket list of absurd things that men always strive to do: to drill the deepest hole on earth and to have the biggest drill in their possession. For this particular obsession I blame Sigmund Freud.
Top: Big drills in popular fiction (left to right): Drilpod-GI Joe, Drillman-Megaman, Big Daddy – Bioshock Infinite, Graf Eisen – Magical Girl Nanoha, Gurren Lagann Mecha, King Mogura drill
Bottom: Big drills in real life (left to right): Generic oil rig drill, Jiffy ice drill for ice fishing, giant tunnel drill, sediment core drill from JOIDES resolution research cruise, Blue Ice Drill & Tanner Kuhl
Fortunately, ice core drilling is more than just a Scott or Shackleton style of testosterone filled cold weather endurance bonanza or a Freudian insecurity wish fulfilment (although at first glance it kinda does look like it). To appreciate ice core research one first needs to understand its history. It all begins here, in the year 1954, in the geochemistry journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta with an article titled “The O-18 abundance in freshwater”  by a pipe smoking bearded Danish scientist named Willi Dansgaard:
In certain areas on the Greenland Ice Cap is a distinct layer formation caused by melting in the summer season… in the opinion of this author, offers the possibility by measurements of the af (i.e. the amount of the heavy oxygen isotope) in these layers of ice to determine climatic changes over a period of time of several hundred years of the past. … An investigation will be undertaken as soon as the opportunity offers.
basically Dansgaard was studying the variation & global distribution of the rarer O-18 (oxygen atom with 10 neutrons and 8 protons) with respect to the more common O-16 (oxygen atom with 8 neutrons and 8 protons) in freshwaters and he found out that the ratio between O-18 and O-16 correlates well with the temperature in which the precipitation occurs (among many other things). He then hypothesizes that if one were to analyze the O-18 to O-16 ratio in Greenland snow as a function of depth, one will be able to go back in time and figure out Greenland’s past temperature.
Picture of Wili Dansgaard holding an ice core
On the other side of the Atlantic, fueled by a good ol’ Cold War paranoia the US military started a project called “Project Iceworm.” The true purpose of this project, as uncovered by the Danish Foreign Policy Institute’s investigation in 1997 is to set up a network of 2,500 miles long tunnels underneath the Greenland ice sheet and load them with nuclear missiles that can be remotely launched in case of nuclear war with the Soviet , – a truly genius and groundbreaking idea that might be worthy of Darwin Award. To ensure the secrecy of it, both the Danish and Greenlandic governments were kept in the dark regarding the true goal of this project. The US need a cover program – hence the highly publicized Camp Century. A video of it can be found here. The Department of Defense told the Danish government that the official purpose of Camp Century was to: “to test various construction techniques under Arctic conditions, explore practical problems with a semi-mobile nuclear reactor, as well as supporting scientific experiments on the icecap.” While some might say that it was a classic half-truth statement, at least they weren’t lying about it, especially regarding the scientific experiment part. The entire project turned out to be a failure anyway, because the US military quickly realized that Greenland ice sheet is very dynamic and their tunnels would be crushed in no time due to ice flow. One great silver lining from this disastrous project is the retrieval of a valuable Camp Century Ice core – “the world’s first ice core ever” that would later be analyzed by Willi Dansgaard to prove his hypothesis.
Our driller Josh Gotez and guest star driller from Bear Camp Elizabeth running the BID-Deep
Fast forward to 2014, ice cores have become one of the best sources for paleoclimate archives and ice core drilling technique has improved significantly (certainly no more smoking pipe next to the ice core!). Modern ice core drilling can be separated into two general categories: “dry drilling” which means drilling ice core without drill fluid and “wet drilling” which requires a drill fluid. For the really deep ice core projects (on the order of kilometers deep), drill fluid is necessary to keep the hole from collapsing due to pressure. For this project at Summit, we used a big diameter dry drill called the “Blue Ice Drill” or BID for short. It was designed by our colleagues at IDDO (Ice Drilling Designs and Operation) – University of Wisconsin. One of the main goals of this season is the testing of BID-Deep on firn ice down to 200m depth. Before the implementation of the “deep-mode”, the BID was only able to drill down to about 20-30m depth. The major difference between the deep-mode and shallow mode is the addition of a winch system that allows the BID to drill deeper but also makes it significantly heavier and less mobile than the shallow mode. On the shallow mode, instead of using a steel winch cable the BID used a fairly straightforward rope system that according to Tanner – one of the main engineers for the drill: “an awkward cross between climbing wall and a sailboat.” Anyway, we are proud to announce that in the last week or so, we managed to drill down to 187m with the BID-Deep and obtain many subsamples for both CO isotopes and N2O isotopes. However, at depth more than 140m we unfortunately encountered many fracturing in the ice cores and had to reduce our subsampling intervals. Anyway all is not lost, because we’ll be back next season to do the proper drilling with the BID-Deep and hopefully our colleagues at Madison, Wisconsin can figure out a solution to reduce the fracturing on the deep cores.
 Dansgaard, Willi. “The O18-abundance in fresh water.”Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 6.5 (1954): 241-260.
 Weiss, Erik D. (Fall 2001). “Cold War Under the Ice: The Army’s Bid for a Long-Range Nuclear Role, 1959-1963”. Journal of Cold War Studies 3 (3): 31–58. doi:10.1162/152039701750419501
 Petersen, Nikolaj (March 2008). “The Iceman That Never Came: ‘Project Iceworm’, the search for a NATO deterrent, and Denmark, 1960–1962”. Scandinavian Journal of History 33.