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China develops hot water drill to facilitate Antarctic expedition

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-04-06 17:22

CHANGCHUN -- China on Wednesday announced it had completed controlled tests on its first hot-water drill, which is capable of drilling through 1,500 meters of ice and will be used for Antarctic research.

This is the fourth test on the drill, it was conducted at Jilin University in Northeast China's Jilin province.

The drill, which uses pressurized hot water to melt and bore into the ice, is capable of drilling 1,500 meters into the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica, the assessment panel announced after an on-site review.

"The drill will be invaluable to China's Antarctic scientific exploration," said Zhao Yue, head of the review panel and a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

The panel agreed to further testing and said the equipment should be used during China's upcoming 34th Antarctic expedition in November, he said.

Once it passes the Antarctic test, China will be the third country to have mastered hot water drilling deeper than 1,000 meters after the United States and Australia.

Our drill can go deeper than the Australian one, and has more functions than the American one, said Li Yuansheng, head of the research team and a researcher with Polar Research Institute of China.

Li said that drilling helps with the detection of ice shelves.

Ice shelves are floating ice platforms between glaciers and the ocean surface. According to Li, the freeze-thaw underneath ice shelves has an important effect on the continental ice sheets, and water masses and ocean currents.

Scientists worldwide know little about how ice shelves affect the ocean, especially given global warming, Li said. Hot water drilling may help.

The aim is to install detectors in the drilled holes, and link them to a central monitoring system.

It will help Chinese arcticologists capture more data on not only ice shelves but also global warming, said the expert.

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