600 metres below the ice

The kilometer thick ice of the Antarctic holds many secrets. For decades, scientists have researched the history of global climate by ice-core drilling. Such a team is the Research Organisation British Antarctic Survey (BAS). With a new technology the researchers can drill 8 times faster in to the ice.

The British organisation has five research stations in the Antarctic, five aircraft, two research ships and a multitude of scientists who do research in the perpetual ice. BAS is the world leading centre for polar research and expertise, addressing issues of global importance. The Ice Dynamics and Palaeoclimate Team developed a new technology (RAID=Rapid Access Isotope Drill) for ice-core drilling. A technology which makes it possible to penetrate much quicker in to the ice. Conventional ice-core drilling takes a long time. The 3.4 kilometer deep hole at Dome Concordia in the eastern Antarctic, took for example, 5 years to complete. 800,000 year old ice was retrieved; until now the deepest insight into the history of the Earth's atmosphere.

However, sometimes ice-cores from such deep holes do not produce good results, i.e. if the ice-core has been taken from the wrong place, explained Julius Rix, Ice Core Drilling Engineer at BAS. According to Robert Mulvaney, Scientific Leader of the Research Team, before drilling a deep ice-core, it will be possible to drill several small cores of approx. 600 meters depth, with the new technology, and bring them to the surface for analysis. Drilling to this depth takes about 7 days, with conventional drilling 2 months. The thickness of the ice and the geothermal heat indicate if it is worth drilling deeper. "It's all very exciting as nobody before has tried to drill holes in the ice of the Antarctic so quickly" declared Mulvaney enthusiastically.

Standard Product in the Antarctic

"It proved to be difficult to find a powerful small motor for our application", said Rix. Therefore BAS asked maxon motor uk about a strong motor with high torque. It should be able to vary the speed of the drive at a constant torque. One prerequisite was also the size - the smaller the better - as the drive must fit into the relatively small drill, keeping in mind the harsh environmental conditions which the drive system has to withstand.

The maxon engineers recommended the maxon EC 45 with 250 Watt and a GP 52 planetary gear. A standard product! The first drilling tests showed that the standard product could withstand the high vibrations and low temperatures. Only some small modifications were required. "maxon really helped us with selecting the right motor and making test motors available to us in advance" said Rix.

 © maxon motor ag

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