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Safe Wells in Glaciers
before March 9, 2006


Glaciers cover one tenth of Earth’s landmass and carry the great bulk of Earth’s fresh water. Glaciers are responsible for climate formation and changes on our planet. The humanity has an enormous interest in glaciers, which in many ways depends on primary resource deterioration on our planet. Innumerable mineral resources – fossil coal, iron ores, copper pyrite and various minerals – are buried deep within the Antarctic Continent, sharing the major part of Earth’s ice cover. There are large deposits of graphite on the seashore of Queen Maud Land.

But not only mineral deposits draw scientists’ attention to the glaciers. In the thousand meter thick ice core one can find many interesting things, such as ancient atmosphere air bubbles, volcanic ash, meteoritic particles, earth and stardust, pollen, spores and bacteria. These ice core inclusions are a true treasure for historians. They can help to explain how the evolution of our planet had developed for tens and hundreds thousand years.

The Antarctic Continent and Greenland Island have the most severe environment conditions on our planet. The ground is almost 100 per cent frozen. It’s hard to get there, and it’s even harder to live there. Frosts, distance and extreme transport conditions hamper ice country’s exploration, which itself is quite costly. That is why many countries unite to explore the Antarctic Continent and Greenland Island within international projects.

Today scientists are in fact penetrating the glaciers – they bore long wells in ice core, collect and analyze samples of ice, liquid and gas. Within the projects of European Science Foundation and National Science Foundation (USA) in the 80s of the XXth century in Greenland the scientists had bored wells of 3029, 2038 and 3053 meter length and had obtained samples of ice across the cross-section of Greenland’s ice cover, where it reaches its maximum thickness. Today these foundations together with National Foundations of Australia, China and Japan have started to explore deep structure, composition and dynamics of the Antarctic Continent ice cover. Russia has also taken part in this research: in 1998 Russia, France and the USA had bored the deepest well (3623 m) in the glacier of the inland “Vostok” station. But the medal has its reverse. The wells are hazardous for air, water and wildlife. The danger is in so-called circulation medium and its wastes. The thing is that when the scientists bore the ice well, they treat it with a special low-temperature fluid to cleanse it while boring and to harden its walls.

Such circulation fluid has special requirements. It should be frost-resistant, because ice temperature reaches –32 C in Greenland and –57 C in the centre of the Antarctic Continent. Then it should have low viscosity in order not to prevent the blasthole drill from moving in the well with speed not less than 1 m per second. Circulation medium has to be stabile, inert and, of course, cheap.

Professor V.K. Chistyakov and Candidate of Science (Engineering) P.G. Talalay from Saint Petersburg State Mountain Institute have analyzed all three organic liquids that are used for ice boring today – hydrocarbon liquids, alcohol- water solutions and esters. All of them turned out to be harmful for human and nature. Within the joint project with Copenhagen University the scientists had developed new polar-ecology-friendly drilling fluids for bore wells. These are organosilicon polymers of low molecular weight. They are able to work under polar freezing condition retaining their viscosity, inertness and other useful properties. Their viscosity is essentially independent of temperature. And the main thing is that these new liquids are nontoxic and environment-friendly.

There are many lakes under the ice cover of the Antarctic Continent. Radar and seismic research discovered 67 subglacial lakes in Central Antarctica. A vast subglacial piece of water spread for 230 km was discovered under Russian Antarctic station “Vostok”. In 1998 the boring of an extra deep well on the station was stopped 130 m above the surface of the lake because the mixture of aviation fuel with fluorocarbon filling the well could irreversibly contaminate its waters. Perhaps, new safe drilling liquid will allow scientists to reach the lake without damaging it.

Tags: Russian Scientists     


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