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FASTDRILL: Interdisciplinary Polar Research Based on Fast Ice-Sheet Drilling
Authors: Tulaczyk S, Elliot D, Vogel SW, Powell RD, Priscu JC and Clow GD
Year: 2002
Keywords: FASTDRILL, directional, replicate, deviation
Periodical/Journal: Report of an NSF-Sponsored Workshop Held at University of California, Santa Cruz, October 23-25, 2002

Polar ice sheets represent archives of biologic, climatic, geologic, and glaciologic materials and information, much of which cannot be obtained anywhere else. By investigating ice sheet interiors and subglacial environments one can elucidate the geologic evolution of the Earth, the history of its climate and sea level, as well as the resilience of life forms exposed to extreme conditions. In addition, modern polar ice sheets provide key analogs for Pleistocene Northern Hemisphere ice sheets and for ice masses existing on other planetary bodies, such as Mars and Europa. Many crucial questions related to the fundamental research directions in polar sciences require recovery of samples or collection of in situ data from deep inside, and from beneath, polar ice sheets. Therefore, it is essential for US polar scientists to have access to deep samples of ice and subglacial materials. Past ice sheet drilling used large, stationary drilling systems to obtain continuous ice cores for research on climate history. New scientific questions concerning polar systems pose novel technological challenges and require cross-disciplinary coordination. There is a strong need for a new ice-sheet drilling platform, which will enable fast completion of arrays of boreholes distributed over large areas (10s and 100s of kilometers in one season). The FASTDRILL workshop brought together nearly sixty scientists and engineers over a period of two days to address the following issues pertinent to the needs of the US polar research community:

(i) Define possible collaboration among the three major disciplines interested in research requiring ice drilling capabilities (biology, geology, glaciology) and the potential ice drilling and downhole sampling systems required to support such research;
(ii) Formulate recommendations for future directions in polar research based on rapid access drilling capabilities (including future targets for drilling and sampling that would maximize the interdisciplinary scientific payoff);
(iii) Formulate recommendations regarding the near-future developments in drilling and sampling technology that are needed to meet the scientific goals defined during the workshop;
(iv) Identify mechanisms, which are needed to provide cross-disciplinary coordination and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration in drilling-based polar research.

Participants at the workshop overwhelmingly agreed that there is a viable long term need for a drilling system, like a hot-water or coiled tubing drill, which allows rapid access to the deeper (>2km) parts of ice sheets and which is capable of sampling sedimentary units and basement rocks beneath these ice sheets. These new tools will make it possible to address an array of fundamental questions in biology, geology, and glaciology. The participants of the FASTDRILL workshop recommend:

(i) The development of a fast, and mobile ice-sheet drilling system within the next 5 years for use by the US polar science community;
(ii) That the next step toward building such system should be a feasibility study during which a group of drilling engineers, in collaboration with a small group of polar scientists, will assess the technical, monetary, logistical, and safety aspects of the different available drilling technologies;
(iii) Initiation of short-term and long-term planning for interdisciplinary polar research based on fast ice-sheet drilling with focus on the scientific areas with high common interest across biology, geology, and glaciology, and
(iv) That the next step toward constructing such plans should be an interdisciplinary workshop during which the community should clearly prioritize and create a schedule for addressing specific scientific objectives using the capabilities of the proposed drill.

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