ANDRILL project breaks Antarctic drilling record, reaches 1,000 meters

Released on 12/19/2006, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., December 19th, 2006 —

The Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program drilled to a new record depth of 1,000 meters below the seafloor from the site on the Ross Ice Shelf near Scott Base in Antarctica Dec. 16.

The depth made ANDRILL the most successful Antarctic drilling program in terms of depth and rock core recovered, breaking the previous record of 999.1 meters set in 2000 by the Ocean Drilling Program's drill ship, the Joides Resolution.

The operations team of 25 drillers, engineers and support staff are justifiably thrilled, ANDRILL Project Manager Jim Cowie said.

Antarctica New Zealand, which managed the Cape Roberts Drilling Project, a highly successful predecessor to ANDRILL, is also managing the on-ice drilling operations and logistics on behalf of the ANDRILL partner nations -- Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States.

Antarctica New Zealand's chief executive, Lou Sanson said, "ANDRILL is one of our flagship projects, and it's great to see such spectacular success after five years of preparation and planning."

Sanson said that much of the technical success of the project can be attributed to Alex Pyne, who has overseen the design and fabrication of the drilling system. Pyne, from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is a veteran of 30 years of scientific drilling in the McMurdo Sound region. He acknowledged that much of the present success is due to lessons learned from previous drilling projects and a dedicated team who have brought to the project a wide range of expertise and experience.

"The key to scientific drilling is delivering high-quality core to the scientists, and we have consistently had better than 98 percent core recovery," said Pyne, who was also the technical expert behind the Cape Roberts Project that drilled to a depth of 939.4 meters below the sea floor. Pyne said reaching 1,000 meters is "great for the drilling team who take a lot of pride in their work, but our eyes are still firmly focused on the target depth of 1,200 meters." He said his crew hopes to reach that depth before Christmas.

"The success is not just technical, the science that will come from the drill cores is also going to be stunning," said ANDRILL's staff scientist Rich Levy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "However, without this world-class technical team producing high-quality core we wouldn't have half the story," added Ross Powell of Northern Illinois University, one the co-chief scientists on this year's McMurdo Ice Shelf Project.

So far the drill cores tell a story of a dynamic Antarctic ice sheet advancing and retreating more than 50 times during the last 5 million years. Some of the disappearances of the ice shelf were probably during past times when our planet was 2-3 degrees Centigrade warmer than it is today -- "much like it will be in the next 50 to 100 years," noted Tim Naish of Victoria University, the other co-chief scientist on the McMurdo Ice Shelf Project.

ANDRILL is a multinational collaboration comprised of more than 200 scientists, students, and educators from five nations (Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) to recover stratigraphic records from the Antarctic margin using Cape Roberts Project technology. The chief objective is to drill back in time to recover a history of paleoenvironmental changes that will guide our understanding of how fast, how large, and how frequent were glacial and interglacial changes in the Antarctica region. Future scenarios of global warming require guidance and constraint from past history that will reveal potential timing frequency and site of future changes.

Operations and logistics for ANDRILL are managed by Antarctica New Zealand. The scientific research is administered and coordinated through the ANDRILL Science Management Office, located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The U.S. part of the project is funded in large part by a $12.9 million National Science Foundation grant to a consortium of five universities headed by UNL and Northern Illinois and also including Florida State, Massachusetts-Amherst and Ohio State.

More information about ANDRILL is at

CONTACT: Tom Simons, University Communications, (402) 472-8514