NASA Podcasts

Micro-sub Explores Buried Antarctic Lake
02.28.13
 
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I'm Alberto Behar and I am one of the co-investigators on an international expedition called WISSARD.

Our destination was subglacial Lake Whillans in one of the most remote areas of Antarctica. Eight people took a dozen containers on sleds and pulled them with tractors for 10 days to get all of our equipment to the subglacial lake.

The camp consisted of a drilling platform, science labs, a tent city for sleeping and a mess hall for dining.

My part of this project was to develop a completely new instrument, a micro-submarine that could get deep under the ice and study the lake characteristics.

This amazing vehicle was mostly built by students at the Arizona State University and it turned out to be about the size of a baseball bat. It can handle the depth of one kilometer of water. It had a high-resolution camera, some chemical sensors and could talk via fiber optics all the way to the surface.

Our system was made up of two parts: the mothership and a submarine. Here you see the deployment device that was connected to the mothership and the sub is inside the deployment device.

Here I am holding the mother ship in my hands ready for its first tests. You're looking into the borehole. It was 800 meters deep and 50 centimeters wide. It took three days to make.

The borehole gave us access to a new environment. Everybody was incredibly excited to see the first images of a subglacial lake.

Here you see the first image of the bottom of subglacial Lake Whillans. A very fine sediment formed by the movement of a glacier over rocks.

One thing that was surprising to us was the lake was actually shallower than what we had measured. We expected to find 10 meters of water. In the end, it was 1.6 meters deep.

By surveying the lake floor and borehole with video, we were able to understand that the instruments that were coming afterwards could safely make it into the lake.

We were now ready to enter the next phase, which was sampling the water and looking for any new microbes.

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