After securing international funding of NZ$40 million, a multinational Antarctic scientific drilling project (ANDRILL), led by New Zealanders, is all set to go.
Over the next five years the ANDRILL programme will drill two deep holes into sediments of the sea floor below 100 m thick ice shelves that fringe Antarctica, to discover more about the behaviour of Antarctic ice sheets during the past 20 mil„ lion years. The sites will be the most ambitious seafloor drill holes yet attempted at the edge of the frozen continent.
Dr Gary Wilson of the University of Otago, international Co-ordinator of the drilling portfolio, said that since the seven member committee first met in Oxford in August 2000, their hopes of getting ANDRILL off the ground have never flagged.
"We're absolutely delighted to learn that the consortium's proposal has been successful. Now we have a secure mandate to get on with the work." The proposal was evaluated by an international panel, assembled by the Antarctic science research programme managers in each of the participating countries.
The multinational initiative includes New Zealand, Italy, USA and Germany, and involves more than 50 international scientists from a number of disciplines. Since the inception of ANDRILL, New Zealand scientists have played a key role in defining the science goals and drilling plan. The project has grown out of the highly successful international Cape Roberts Project led by Professor Peter Barrett of Victoria University.
New Zealand's national representative to the international science committee, Dr Tim Naish of Geological and Nuclear sciences, along with Wilson and Barrett, has spearheaded geophysical and site survey investigations over the past two years, and this has been fundamental in attracting the funding.
"Understanding Antarctica's role in the global climate system over spe
cific intervals in our geological past is what this project is all about," said Wilson. "We know that Antarctica has undergone significant changes in icecover and in the style of ice-cover „and there has been a lot of work done studying deep sea cores around the world to understand climate change.
"But there is only a very limited Antarctic record and therefore little direct knowledge of the role Antarctica has played in what has happened elsewhere in the world. There have been a lot of predictions and assumptions, but no firm evidence."
"New Zealand's experience in this kind of venture, particularly Antarctica New Zealand's input into the logistical planning of such an exercise, has also been a key to the proposal's funding success.
"In association with Alex Pyne of Victoria University and Webster Drilling and Exploration, a Porirua-based company. we are developing a revolutionary drilling system that will be needed to extract the cores from beneath the floating Antarctic ice shelves," said Antarctica New Zealand/ANDRILL Logistics Manager, Jim Cowie.
"Our immediate focus is to recover up to 2km of sediment from the first
two drill sites in the southern McMurdo Sound region near Scott Base. It will involve drilling techniques that have not been attempted elsewhere in the world." While drilling is scheduled to begin in the 2004/ 2005 season, a team of 20 headed to Antarctica early in November 2003 to continue the critical geophysical and drill site investigations.
There has been wide interest in the project from New Zealand scientists at Crown Research Institutes and universities. New Zealand funding for the project has come from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and Vote Education for the scientific aspects, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for logistical and operational requirements undertaken by Antarctica New Zealand.
The project has been devised in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, said Wilson, "bringing together several nations to work on a scientific programme with global implications. It will be an international facility, able to be used anywhere around Antarctica". While funding has been secured for the next five years, further proposals will need to be submitted to ensure the continuation of the pro-gramme beyond 2008.