In what the National Science Foundation calls “a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering,” a research team in western Antarctica that includes St. Olaf faculty members Bob Jacobel (pictured) and Knut Christianson ’05 successfully drilled through 800 meters of ice to reach a subglacial lake.
The water and sediment samples the team is retrieving from the lake have been isolated for thousands of years, and researchers are looking for signs of microscopic life. What they find may help scientists better understand how life can survive in extreme ecosystems.
The WISSARD team is comprised of 13 principal investigators — including Jacobel — from eight different academic institutions, with additional collaborators from around the world. At St. Olaf, the WISSARD project is part of the college’s Center for Geophysical Studies of Ice and Climate.
As part of the WISSARD team, Jacobel and Christianson have been responsible for determining the geophysical characterization of the subglacial lake. The data they’ve gathered, which shows the dimensions and hydrology of the lake, played a crucial role in helping the team determine where to drill.