Antarctic Sub Glacial Lake and Stream Studies


Archived PolarConnect Event: Celebrating Antarctica Day with the WISSARD project
3 December 2012
This one hour event is available in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

A hot water drill used to drill through the sea iceA hot water drill used to drill through the sea ice This is the first of two research seasons in Antarctica for the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project. The goal of the WISSARD Project was to learn more about the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the unique environments under glaciers in West Antarctica. In addition to understanding the geology and hydrology, the team studied life in extreme subglacial environments. By investigating this interrelated system, they got a better understanding of the influence of climate change on the melting of ice sheets and their contributions to sea level rise.

The WISSARD Project had three inter-related components:

  • RAGES (Robotic Access to Grounding zones for Exploration and Science)
  • LISSARD (Lake and Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling)
  • GBASE (GeomicroBiology of Antarctic Subglacial Environments)

The primary goal of the first field season was to test and explore the zone (grounding zone) just before the grounded ice of the Whillans Ice Stream went afloat into the Ross Ice Shelf, which is thought to be a very sensitive area in terms of ice sheet dynamics and its response to global warming. During their deployment, the team used a hot water drill to melt boreholes deep into the ice stream. After the holes were melted, they tested and deployed complex new monitoring and sampling equipment under the ice.

Learn more about the project at the official project website.

Where Are They?

Snow drifts on the West Antarctic Ice SheetSnow drifts on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet The team staged operations out of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and then camped out and performed their research on the lower areas of the Whillans Ice Stream just before it went afloat into the Ross Ice Shelf. The ice stream is a faster flowing "stream" of ice within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the study site was located right at the head of the Ross Ice Shelf. McMurdo Station is located at the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound. During the summer research season, McMurdo Station supports up to 1,200 people.


Before the traverse
I hope that some of you check back here, because the big news is that the traverse to the final test site has taken off from McMurdo! They have a trip that will take them 10 to 12 days to complete. Check out the video link below- it's on facebook, so if you have school filters it may be blocked. I'm going to try to find it from a more accessible spot and put that in here too. Some of the containers that will be towed across the ice during the traverse. Be sure to view the video link.
Getting on board the LC-130
Yes, I did make it home. Here's a story of the trip and some pictures I took along the way. Happy Holidays to everyone who followed along. Going Home – Day One Today is Thursday, December 13. I know it’s time to leave because I’ve gotten an email from housing telling me to clean my room and check out. I know because I got another email telling me to take my baggage to the MCC . I also know because of the many thanks, hugs, and goodbyes from other team members and people I’ve come to know at McMurdo. I know because when I look out across the frozen water of McMurdo Sound I see the...
Mike LeBaron and Tractor
Today the sun was back out, the wind was calm and the snow and ice of McMurdo Sound had regained the brilliance that we have become accustomed to here. It’s my last day in Antarctica – tomorrow I will board the LC-130 and head back home. Until that time though, I’m going to enjoy the time I have left and see how the test site has changed since Monday. Commuting to Work I boarded the Delta at 7:15 with the drillers, a couple of electricians, John, Tim, Mike, and Betty of the WISSARD team, and Kathy, our excellent and good natured driver. A Delta is big, heavy, and not terribly fast, but...
Airport christmas tree
Hi to everyone! i just wanted to let you know that I've left McMurdo and am on the way home. Right now I'm in Sydney, Australia waiting for my flight to the U.S. It will be a 15 hour flight that takes me to Dallas, Texas. I'm NOT looking forward to the plane ride, but I'll be happy to be home. By the way - I'm writing this on December 14 in Australia, but it's only the 13th in the U.S. I have several journal entries to post, but I'm going to do it when I'm at a better and more secure internet connection. Please check back over the weekend or on Monday for some new entries. This tree...
The WISSARD project won’t be using helicopters, but many of the projects do. There is no way you can ignore them. They are thumping around in the sky all day long and the heliport area is just outside the Crary lab where I spend quite a bit of time. To learn more about helicopter operations in the Antarctic today the outreach team went down to visit with John at the heliport. John’s job is to schedule helicopter time, oversee the heliport, and make sure that cargo and equipment are ready to go. It’s an important job for the research teams because for many of them the only way they can...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

5 November 2012 to 14 December 2012
Location: McMurdo Station
Project Funded Title: WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project

Meet the Team

Mike LeBaron's picture
Lake Norman High School
Mooresville, NC
United States

Michael LeBaron grew up "on science", learning everything from welding to soil sampling on the family farm that was a part of the University of Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station. When Mr. LeBaron began college, majoring in Geology was a natural choice, as he knew that he wanted a profession where he could work outside while continuing to learn about the world around him. He has had a variety of careers since graduating with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Geology. These have included spending many years in the oil and gas industry, working as a field geologist in Uranium and Industrial Minerals Exploration, and even a short time in the banking world. Mr. LeBaron made one last career change into teaching, opening the door for him to give back and share what he had learned over the years as a professional geologist. He teaches Earth and AP Environmental Science teacher at Lake Norman High School, bringing his various science travels and knowledge into the classroom in some pretty offbeat and unusual teaching strategies. Travels have included going to Ecuador with the North Carolina Museum of Natural History to have a firsthand look at the impacts of poverty on environmental quality, and a three-week period aboard the RV Atlantis as an observer and outreach participant in the New Millennium Observatory (NeMO) Project along the Juan de Fuca Ridge. When Mr. LeBaron is not at school or wandering around other parts of the world, he can be found traveling with his wife (also a teacher), backpacking with Boy Scout Troop 162 of Mooresville, or checking up on his two sons.

John Priscu's picture
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT
United States

John Priscu is a professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University. His research interest lies in life associated with Antarctic ice and its relationship to global change and astrobiology. Dr. Priscu heads the Priscu Research Group.

Slawek Tulaczyk's picture
University of California Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA
United States
Ross Powell's picture
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL
United States

Ross Powell has been a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Northern Illinois University since the early 1980's. His main research interests focus on processes where glaciers and ice sheets enter the sea, and his recent research has focused on Alaskan and Antarctic glacimarine processes and paleoclimate history involving underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROV's) among other scientific tools. He has played a lead role in the [ANDRILL]( (Antarctic geological Drilling) Program and the [WISSARD]( program, collecting sediment cores for the first time from a subglacial lake in Antarctica—Lake Whillans. He has mentored teachers in polar field research through the Cape Roberts and ANDRILL programs in Antarctica and the Svalbard REU program in the Arctic. He is also periodically a guest lecturer at the University Center ([UNIS]( on Svalbard.