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Technical issues halt drilling at Lake Ellsworth

During the weekend a technical issue halted hot water drilling at Subglacial Lake Ellsworth. On the afternoon of Saturday 15th December 2012, the field team encountered a serious problem with the main boiler that is used to generate the hot water required for drilling down to the lake.

As reported on our blog several days ago the primary burner controller circuit failed upon start up. A secondary burner was fitted and a new circuit ordered to replace the primary one. The secondary burner ran successfully for 4 to 5 days – enough to melt the water required and to begin drilling the borehole for the cavity. Unfortunately, the burner failed at approximately 3pm local time on Saturday.

The replacement component is likely to be with the deep field team in a few days’ time. In the meantime the engineering team is in contact with the manufacturers of the units who are helping them to determine the cause of the malfunction. Both units demonstrated the same problem. When the replacement circuit arrives the engineers will work with the manufacturer to go through the set up procedure. The team is hopeful that this will solve the problem.

If not, a further option is to attempt to bypass the circuit and manually “drive” the burner. The team is discussing operating protocols with the manufacturer before exploring this option further.

It is unlikely that the team will resume drilling before Friday 21 December. Further updates will be posted on here. Please note: Ellsworth is 3 hrs behind UK time. The team is working round the clock on shifts.

10 Responses to “Technical issues halt drilling at Lake Ellsworth”

  1. Bram Murton Says:

    With time and fuel both limited, the technical problem poses a serious a challenge. But knowing how resourceful you guys are, we’re all confident you will give it your best shot. Good luck and best wishes!

  2. Charles howie Says:

    Bad luck. This is really tough for you. I guess while the boiler is down the melted water may refreeze and then will need extra fuel to melt it again. Hope you can continue, but things might no quite work out as planned.
    Best wishes

  3. Cesare Brizio Says:

    I trust your keen judgement and I am sure that you will do no less than everything possible to overcome this issue. Please feel the warmth of your enthusiast sustainers!

  4. Steven Teale Says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the pause in drilling operations. It’s frustrating to many otherwise very excited folk back home, but I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for you all at Ellsworth. I hope you and your supplier can overcome the current difficulties and remain an excited (very excited!) spectator. Best wishes to you all.

  5. Joe Chodacki Says:

    On the boiler are you losing modulation control or the fan altogether? If there is no modulation can you still fire it at minimum and adjust manually from there or is it digitally controlled? Good luck and we at the Van Dyke Powerhouse are pulling for you.

  6. Keith Thomason Says:

    Good luck with the replacement part and locating the root cause. Fingers and toes crossed that you get back on track!

  7. Good news and bad news… « Scripps On Ice Says:

    [...] at Lake Ellsworth has halted due to an electronics problem. View their principle investigator (PI) Martin Seigert talk about it [...]

  8. Paula Dodds Says:

    Hope all is up and running for tomorrow, and that you are all safe and well x

  9. Chris Hill Says:

    Thanks to everyone for your kind wishes, we really appreciate them.
    We are close to finding a solution and hope to be back up and runing very soon. More to follow!
    Cheers Chris

  10. Antarctica’s Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Will Keep Its Secrets For Now | Smart News Says:

    [...] A few days into the operation, however, drilling stalled out when a piece of the drill’s boiler gave way. The Lake Ellsworth team was using a massive hot-water drill, a device that takes in purified water, heats it up and uses it to carve away at the thick glacier ice. The Ellsworth team brought in a replacement part, and drilling was once again underway. But now the team’s leader, Martin Siegert, has announced that they wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it all the way down to the lake and that the mission had been called off. [...]