Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

34. How long does it take to drill a core to the bottom?

Christian, it will take us about 4 years to drill the ice core I am helping with.  But in those four years, we are only drilling for about 160 days.  We can only drill in the summer because the weather is so harsh.  We drill about 20 meters per day and the ice is 3400 meters (2 miles) deep.

It’s faster to drill near the surface than near the bottom.  The drill brings up 3 meters (10 feet) of ice each time it’s lowered and raised, so drilling down deep takes a lot longer because you have to lower the drill 3000 m instead of 300.

The time to drill to the bottom also varies depending on where on the ice sheet you drill.  The ice near the coast tends to be thinner, taking less time to drill to the bottom.  In the interior of Antarctica, it can be even deeper and take even longer to drill.

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