ANDRILL-ing in Arctic Sea to study global warming

By Sarah J. Augustinas

An international drilling project, aimed at collecting data from under the Arctic Sea to better understand global warming trends, has added several new team members from NIU.

The ANDRILL project, based in Antarctica at the McMurdo Base, is a $30 million research venture headed by NIU and the University of Nebraska. An NIU-owned drill will be used to gather rock cores from the bottom of the Ross Sea, an area of the Arctic Sea south of New Zealand.

The cores will be used to study the expansion and contraction of Arctic ice sheets during the past 20 million years.

“We hope to be able to improve models used by climatologists to predict how our current climate may react to the kinds of changes we so often hear about today, such as global warming,” said Matthew Olney, a research student and recent addition to the team.

The NIU members will leave for the American base in October 2007, the southern hemisphere’s summer season.

“Summer there is rather like winter here, except that the sun shines 24 hours per day. Some days reach the freezing point, but it may be -10 [degrees Fahrenheit] or colder at the base,” said Reed Scherer, a geology associate professor.

Scherer, who was asked to join the team as a discipline team leader by the Scientific Steering Committee, has been involved in several similar projects before.

“I have years of experience in ocean drilling and Antarctic micropaleontology,” Scherer said. He also will cover the position of chief paleontologist.

The ANDRILL team will live at the McMurdo base in dorm-style living arrangements, but Scherer recalls previous ventures in less favorable housing.

“In previous Antarctic work I was entirely in tents,” he said. “Sometimes it can be brutally windy, other times so still that a feather would fall straight to the ground.”

Besides gathering equipment and other necessary materials for the trip, the team will go through intensive medical testing to ensure their health before leaving.

“It’s basically a thorough physical test where if people have any serious medical conditions; it’s best not to have them down in the Antarctic where help is not always immediately available,” said Ross Powell, co-leader of the U.S. contingent of ANDRILL scientists.

Olney has prepared for ANDRILL since he began his Ph.D. project three years ago.

“My Ph.D. project was designed with the ANDRILL projects in mind … I have been studying fossil marine diatoms from Antarctica for the last three years,” Olney said.

Olney said he believes the possibilities are endless for NIU if the project is successful.

“The research we expect to result from the projects will be of world-wide significance,” Olney said. “It will be a fantastic ‘feather in the cap’ for NIU as a whole.”