Hercules Dome

Hercules Dome is located at ~86°S, 105°W, between the Horlick and Thiel Mountains, about 400 km from the South Pole. It was first identified as a promising site for a deep ice core on the basis of radar and shallow ice-core data collected by US International Trans‐Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE) traverse in 2002-2003 (Jacobel and others, 2005).

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Topographic map of Hercules Dome showing the location in Antarctica. Map by Ben Hills, University of Washington.
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Elevation profile and radar stratigraphy at West Dome collected by the site-selection team in 2019. Figure courtesy of Knut Christianson.

Hercules Dome actually comprises three distinct features, informally known as the “West”, “East” and “South” domes, which are anchored by subglacial ridges. Ongoing site-selection work led by Knut Christianson at the University of Washington will use ice-penetrating radar and GPS surveys and ice-flow modeling to select a final location for drilling. Results to date suggest that either West Dome or South Dome are the most promising sites.

Getting people and equipment to Hercules Dome for drilling is a major operation, which will likely involve at least one tractor-traverse all the way from McMurdo Station, about 1600 kilometers away. For much of the distance, we will be able to take advantage of the well-established route from McMurdo to South Pole.

Drilling is expected to begin in January 2024. In the meanwhile, we’ll be working with the National Science Foundation, the Antarctic Support Contractor, and the U.S. Ice Drilling Program (IDP) engineers at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, in planning logistics.

Because drilling will not begin for a few years, there is ample time to consider getting involved in the science and in other aspects of the project.