Hercules Dome Update

  • Project News

It has been some time since we have sent you an update on the Hercules Dome project. We are happy to be able to provide you some concrete and positive news.

First, the Hercules Dome site-selection team has been having a very successful season, despite the usual (and unusual) logistical and COVID-related challenges. Very much at the last minute, the plan for a full season of camping in the field had to be replaced by Twin Otter day trips from South Pole, as also happened to us in 2018/2019. The field team, led by TJ Fudge, with University of Washington grad students Ben Hills and Liam Kirkpatrick, and UMaine grad student Emma Erwin, put together an ambitious plan to cover the West Dome area in as much detail as possible (see image below, showing this year's grid in red). To our delight, they have pulled it off, completing a 7.5km radius radial grid at 30 degree intervals, which means radar largely along the flow line. There have been no particular surprises in the bed topography, which is similar in the two initial lines we obtained 18/19: the average depth is 1600m with topography of +/-200m. The West Hercules Dome summit is over one of the highest bedrock areas. The two prime core locations appear (from a preliminary assessment of the data so far) appear to be in the area to the grid northeast - the focus of our Journal of Glaciology paper last year -- and one to the grid west-southwest where there is a long stretch of smooth bedrock. In short, prospects for an excellent ice core location remain extremely positive. The team hopes to manage to fill in a few more gaps before the season ends in a couple of weeks.

Second, NSF is investing heavily in improved traverse capability, and the new Intermediate Science Traverse (IST) vehicles and sleds that we will use for Hercules Dome are on track to be delivered to the ice by the end of next season. During the 24/25 season, the IST will be assembled and then tested and potentially commissioned. We are encouraged that this should allow us to keep to the schedule on our web site (https://herculesdome.org/project-timeline), meaning limited cargo deliveries and initial field operations could start in 2024/2025, with drilling to commence as soon as 2025/2026, pending the expected final approval of our logistics plan. We will be in touch again as things become even more concrete over the next few months. It is still early, but not too early, to start planning proposals for science on, and associated with, the eventual ice core recovery. We will communicate more on that soon.

Finally, as you will have seen, the Hercules Dome project is sponsoring the 2nd Annual Ice Core Open Science Meeting. Last year's meeting was a major success, was the most inclusive and diverse such meeting ever with an exceptional showing career faculty and students, and had uniformly superb talks and posters. Don't forget to plan to attend the meeting this year, May 8-10th in Seattle: https://herculesdome.org/us-ice-core-open-science-meeting-2023

Best wishes,
Eric Steig and the rest of the Herc Dome leadership team