History of Greenland Ice Drilling

Comments on the Development of Ice Drills

1. Langway and Hammer Interview excerpts
2. NSF Document: PICO's Responsibilities
3. NSF Document: Criteria for PICO Contractor
4. Kelly, Koci, and Mayewski on relations between scientists and drill developers

1. Langway and Hammer Interview excerpts

Chester Langway, from interview on29 October 1992:

The Camp Century thing [in The 1960s] strung out for five years, because we had trouble all the time with the drill. But [Lyle] Hansen was really a genius, and he perfected it, but at the same time recognized that even if he gets the damn drill working well, he'd never go into bedrock because of the heating element. That's where the team work came in, and that was very important, because he was just down the hall [at CRREL], and I would go over and talk with him .... I don't know how much concern they give to this when you've got a drilling operation in Alaska, and all the scientists are all over it's more difficult to communicate. But with Lyle we'd go back and forth ... and we'd work out some of the things. It was a more fruitful approach.

Klaus Hammer, from interview on 1 September 1993:

Professor Oeschger in Bern, Professor Langway, who had moved to Buffalo, New York, as a professor, and Professor Dansgaard asked the National Science Foundation to sponsor deep drilling in Greenland. The biggest problem was that nobody had a deep drill. I was with Professor Dansgaard ... in London to meet with NSF officials around 1977, and we were told the first day that "If you scientists want to drill through an ice sheet, you will have to make the drill." The American capability had been tested, ... and it was a fiasco. Due to a lot of unfortunate things, the drill didn't work and they stopped the project. And they told us that they were willing to help with deep drilling in Greenland, but the Danes had to make the drill. That was our contribution so to speak. In the evening we discussed if we should do this [make a drill]. Remember we were a laboratory with ... five people, and we had to make a drill which usually a big organization will make! We knew that we would have to drop a lot of other things. Maybe we would even smash our own group by doing it. But if we didn't do it, there would be no material .... The next day we said okay, we go.


2. NSF Document: PICO's Responsibilities

[Editor's note: The following is from the "Solicitation Offer and Award," dated 31 July 1988, that the NSF's contract office used to obtain proposals for the Polar Ice Coring Office. The occasion called for a summary of PICO's history and a statement of the scope of PICO's responsibilities.]

Document supplied by Herman Zimmerman.



In 1973 the National Science Foundation identified the need for the coordination of its activities related to ice core drilling in polar and high-altitude localities. Consequently, the Foundation awarded a contract to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UN-L) to provide, under one management structure, the functions of operational and logistic planning; development, procurement, and operation of ice core drilling equipment; and the overall coordination of activities associated with ice core drilling.

Under this contract, UN-L established the Polar Ice Coring Office (PICO) in February 1974. The Contractor was and is through the term of the existing contract responsible for organizing the coordination and logistical support of ice-core drilling projects; planning for maximum utilization of ice coring and ancillary equipment and trained personnel; making recommendations for shallow, intermediate-depth, and deep ice coring and ancillary equipment; and providing the coordination of logistical support requirements for NSF-sponsored research in Greenland.

More recently, the Contractor has become responsible for engineering, designing, and developing various types of drills. Hot-water drilling and borehole logging are additional new areas of responsibility. The Contractor works closely with Program Managers at the Division of Polar Programs (DPP) and maintains continuous liaison and communications on a national and international basis with the scientific leaders of ice coring projects and with the users of ice coring data. The Contractor's major activities since1974 are summarized below by geographic region.

ANTARCTICA. For every field season since 1974, the Contractor has supported a number of ice core and hot-water drilling and borehole logging programs that cover a broad geographical area in Antarctica (See Figure 1). It is the responsibility of the Contractor to provide for the erection of field camps and the operation of drilling equipment at remote sites. The Contractor provides logistic and operational support for three (3) to four (4) projects each austral summer season. The Contractor is responsible for the shipping of equipment and supplies to embarkation points within the United States; the Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program transports personnel, equipment, and supplies to sites within Antarctica. To date, the Contractor has only supported Principal Investigators (PI) staged out of McMurdo. Since 1977, the Contractor successfully drilled a number of high quality ice cores, measuring over 100m or more in length. Table 1 gives the location, year, and depth of these cores and Figure 1 shows the location on a map of Antarctica. [Map not included here.]

In addition, borehole logging in the Byrd borehole has been an ongoing, periodic activity. A Contractor's hot-water drill was used to drill over 1000m of shot holes at Dome C in ice below *5OC and over 2000m of shot holes on the Siple Coast. The Contractor is currently tasked to develop a new hot-water drill system that will penetrate more than 1200m through ice sheets.

GREENLAND. The Contractor is responsible for all operational planning coordination and logistical support for Foundation sponsored science field projects. This support includes DEW Line Clearances, Sondrestrom and Thule Blanket Theater Clearances, Foreign National Clearances, and Military Air/Command (MAC) travel.


3. NSF Document: Criteria for PICO Contractor

[Editor's note: This letter and attachments were sent to the other institutions that responded to the Request for Proposals for hosting the Polar Ice Coring Office. Some of the questions indicate what NSF officials desired in a PICO host: presence of polar scientists and science projects, appointment of a first-rate person to direct PICO, presence of technical expertise in borehole logging, proximity to military air support, availability of space that would facilitate exchanges between PICO and university staff. The "ICWG" is the Ice Core Working Group, which the National Academy of Science's Committee on Glaciology set up. In the end, the NSF decided to award the PICO contract to the University of Alaska.]


May 24, 1988

Dr. William E. Splinter
Assoc. Vice Chancellor-Research
307 Administration Building
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE 68506-0430
re: Polar Ice Coring & Support
Solicitation RFP GE087-104

Dear Dr. Splinter:

As discussed with you on May 20, 1988, your institution will have an opportunity to discuss the attached questions with the Foundation at 11:00 a.m., June 2, 1988. Please provide written replies to me in Room 1148. Your institution should send an individual who is authorized to negotiate on its behalf and an individual who is conversant with the technical aspects of your proposal.

If you have any questions, please contact me at (202) 357-7544.


William A. Bryant
Contract Specialist

Questions for PICS Offerors:

1. How will you integrate the needs of the ICWG and the scientific community into your management structure? Would the role of your internal science advisory group interfere with the response of PICO to the guidance of the scientific community?

2. Who from your institution's current faculty or staff will take a significant and direct role in the management of PICO?

Clarify the division of responsibility between Traves and Kuivenen.

3. On what international polar science projects have researchers from your institution participated?

On what national and international polar-policy groups have members of your
institution participated?

4. What initiatives would you advise in borehole logging technologies?

5. Expand upon your interaction with - and access to - the capabilities of nearby military air support that might be utilized for research projects.

6. What inventory system will you institute to control equipment and consumables

7. Please identify the space to be made available to PICO and under what conditions is this space available? Please describe the relation of this facility to the main campus plant. If this space is not on campus, is there equivalent space available on campus?

8. If PICO were allowed a staffing level of 10 person-years, to what personnel
categories would this be distributed?

Answers to Questions raised at the Preproposal Conference

In response to Mr. Treves' question concerning the criteria and expectations for the deep drill (p. 27), the following is submitted:

The current contractor is tasked with the development and testing of an instrumented electromechanical drill having the capability of penetrating the world's thickest ice sheets and retrieving high quality ice cores from a fluid-filled drill hole. That development is now in the proof-of-concept and prototype testing stages.

Final specifications for the operational GISP II deep drill (including core diameter, etc.) will be determined after this summer's field test and in consultation with a science and engineering technical panel that will soon be appointed.


4. Kelly, Koci, and Mayewski on relations between scientists and drill developers:

John Kelly, from interview on 8 and 10 September 1992

The PIs ... may not know intimately everything about the drill, but they need to know what the drill can do, what the fluid can do. After all, they gave us the set of criteria for choosing the fluid .... [Such information is communicated in] two ways. One is always the informal way. Everybody here will just pick up the telephone and call who they think needs to know. But formally it's through the director of the Science Management Office of the GISP program at the University of New Hampshire.

The drill developed gradually, and the device that's being used now is still under development, so you might say that this is an active test. As you can guess, there's a lot of science as well as ego invested in any type of instrument development, and ... when there was an emergency decisions were made primarily by one person, and there would be no committees or any other peer review of it .... With major developments such as overall drill design or instrument design, that would be done by essentially peer reviews — people who we consider to be experts would be brought into to look at it, discuss it, and then a decision would be made.

Bruce Koci, from interview on 10 September 1992

The scientists would always like the biggest core possible. And we have limited funds available. And so we just tried to make the biggest drill possible without creating something that was out of hand, and a lot of that was just mechanical considerations. But the scientists seemed to like that bigger size, although they'll come back later and say they really would like something bigger yet. Scientific requirements change all the time anyway, and they tend to go towards wanting cleaner and cleaner samples and bigger and bigger samples.

On operations:

John Kelly, from interview on 8 and 10 September 1992

[The routine in the field] was highly structured. The drilling operation is very dangerous. The logistics end [of the routine] was ours. We would confer with the client as to what the needs were, and of course it would always be give and take, because we would like to go in with the lower number of scientific personnel and they would like to go in with the maximum number and some compromises always had to be made. Our camp manager would then structure the camp. But everybody pretty much knew what they had to do. The scientific community had to report to a chief scientist, who would try to insure that they would get what they wanted or that they had some time to do something else.

Bruce Koci, from interview on 10 September 1992

When you start out, you go through a real steep learning curve. There was the problem with the motors. There were problems with the winches. After you are involved in a few projects, people do what they have to do. And you can never say what that is, because every time is unique. The first couple of years I acted as lead driller because basically I was the U. S. drilling community. But I'm not that interested in being a "drill sergeant." So I stepped out of that position into development.

Paul Mayewski, from interview on 6 May 1994

We (scientists) were not privy to the logistics budget .... At one time I think they (PICO) had 15 full-time people working on their staff in logistics. It's an immense number of people. It was larger than it had to be, and created a lot more friction.

John Kelly, from interview on 8 and 10 September 1992

In any field operation you have people who become very isolated very quickly, and their thinking becomes very insular. And so one has to choose words very carefully, especially when responding to requests or questions by radio. It might come out like the voice of God to them. They may not really want that. And so we have had a number of problems...with the people in the field and people working with them. But it all comes back again to that communication problem. And of course the egos, and the constant task of trying to make people feel warm and fuzzy when maybe it isn't even possible to do so.

On drillers and scientists:

Bruce Koci, from interview on 10 September 1992

[Interactions between scientists and engineers] really depends on how the drilling is going .... When drilling is going good, you know, you're everybody's buddy, but when it isn't, then everybody's on your back and they're all sitting there tapping their toes .... If you can't handle having your world inside of a kilometer-sized ping pong ball, you've got a problem. And I think that — and the ability to communicate — is really what you need.

Paul Mayewski, from interview on 6 September 1994

The drilling was going really slowly. We were having a lot of political problems with the drilling group .... I thought a great way to get everybody together was to write a big joint paper .... Clearly the reason that I was probably pushing it more than anybody else was that I was the person going to NSF. ... [A]lthough the slow progress in drilling had nothing to do with the science, ... the only way to make a program that's going slowly in the field look good is to make what small products you have look very good. [And when the drilling went well] we rode on a wave for several months. Although we were all publishing papers, people didn't notice the papers because the drilling had finished and it was the most successful drilling ever.


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