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Antarctic Geologic Drilling

When Richard Levy asked me if I knew anything about multimedia, I had a very limited perspective of how my answer would shape the future of my life.

by Megan Berg
when I was curled up on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, in a yellow Scott tent, wondering if it was bad that my toes had been numb for the last 5 hours. It was 40 degrees below zero, I had a cold, and was in a claustrophobic panic next to three other women with the only escape being a small tubed canvas hole on the other side of the tent. My bladder was full.

Let’s just say I wasn’t a natural for Antarctic field work.

Photo: Happy Camper School, 2006. Photo by Megan Berg.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel and was debating which was worse: Freezing on an ice shelf or floating in the Pacific Ocean with a hungry tiger in your lifeboat. Happy Camper School is a very basic survival training course and is, for most who pass through it, a pleasant memory. Like a happy vacation or a day off from work. I came back from my experience with frost nip below my nose and the worst head cold of my life. I was selfishly comforted by the fact that some men in our class who had spent many decades camping in Antarctica also had a relatively miserable experience that night.

Photo: Happy Camper School, 2006. Photo by Megan Berg.

This story isn’t about my embarrassing leap into Antarctic camping life. It’s about something much bigger than that.

So yes, Richard Levy asked if I knew how to make a website. One was needed for the launch of a new research program called ANDRILL.

One could spend a lifetime mapping acronyms. Entire chapters and reference sections are devoted to acronyms in science publications. ANDRILL (The Antarctic Geologic Drilling Program) is funded by NSF (The National Science Foundation) during the IPY (International Polar Year) to drill two holes beneath the MIS (McMurdo Ice Shelf) and SMS (Southern McMurdo Sound).

Photo: Observation Hill. Photo by Megan Berg.


it still doesn’t say much about what it is, eh? I can tell you what it’s not: It’s not drilling for oil.

And as for what it is…

Geologists love rocks. You can find them hungrily waiting for dynamite crews to finish blasting a new highway pass. You can find them climbing, crawling, hiking, collecting, hoarding, etc- all kinds of rocks. A rock collection is, to a geologist, a sort of cohesive meaning of one’s soul.

Photo: Roadside geology, Wyoming. Photo by Megan Berg.



is a bit of a problem. A) It’s 98% covered in ice. B) Even if you got rid of the ice, a lot of it would be covered in water. C) It’s pretty darn cold.

    To get around this, geologists drill. They drill for thousands of meters of rock core. To accomplish this, a drill rig sits on top of the ice and performs an astonishing feat of reaching through the water, gluing itself to the sea floor, and drilling neat, cylindrical tubes of rock, all while quietly floating up and down with the tide and languidly coasting on the ice floe.

Photo: ANDRILL Drill Rig.

We learn more and more about our planet by looking at clues to its past. It was only in the 1960s that the theory of plate tectonics was being hotly debated after researchers found fossils linking edges of continents together. We have come a great distance in our understanding of our planet in a very short period of time thanks to an enormous surge in technology– satellites, air and space craft, computers, etc.


The Polar regions are often referenced as a sort of sensitive gauge for the health of our planet.

ANDRILL isn’t trying to estimate ice mass loss or gain. ANDRILL’s goal is to go back in time. To look deep into the layers of Antarctica’s past, and understand what things looked like millions of years ago. It’s difficult to imagine such a cold, dead place being almost sub-tropical at one point, but there is evidence for this.

Photo: An ANDRILL scientist marks a spot on the rock core where she would like to take a sample. Photo credit: ANDRILL.

past, we gain perspective on atmospheric conditions throughout time. Using models, it’s possible to attempt a prediction of what will happen in the future as our atmospheric conditions continue to flux in response to changes within in the planet’s many intricate, interrelated systems.

There is a great deal of effort that goes into a cause such as this. ANDRILL brings together a team of people from the United States, Italy, Germany, and New Zealand. It’s not the first research project of its kind, but rather the most innovative and technologically advanced project within a string of legacy programs on the continent, including the prior Dry Valley Drilling Program and Cape Roberts Project.

Photo: ANDRILL scientist Gary Acton at Happy Camper School.


for the program, I had the tremendously unexpected privilege of traveling to Antarctica to document the field work.

Working with teachers from around the world, we attempted to gather the many threads of this story into cohesive, meaningful packages.

We produced short video podcasts and accompanying booklets that track the journey to Antarctica and highlight the many science disciplines that bring the program together.

We created Project Iceberg, an online portal to access these video podcasts, along with photos, blogs, and more.

Photo: Megan Berg films David Harwood, Taylor Valley, Antarctica.]. Photo by Greg Browne.

led by Judy Diamond at the University of Nebraska and LuAnn Dahlman from NOAA, we created the Flexhibit (Flexible Exhibit) that is used in classrooms and informal education settings from Crystal Lake, Illinois to Rio Clairo, Brazil; Trento, Italy; Lusaka, Zambia and beyond.

As much as my job was to act as an educator of sorts, being a part of this program taught me more than I could ever have prepared myself for. Not least of all to layer up and take a hot water bottle to bed when you plan on sleeping out on the ice!

Photo: ANDRILL Flexhibit produced in Zambia. Photo provided by Lucky Musonda, Secretary General of the UN Youth Assoc. of Zambia.