Design & Technology

Click to view full size

The RAID design is based fundamentally on a conventional diamond drilling system like that used in mineral exploration, modified to operate in polar conditions, operate in an autonomous manner, and reach the depths required by the scientific objectives. A key innovation in the current design is the adoption of a flooded reverse-circulation drilling mode, which has the dual function of maintaining appropriate fluid pressure in the borehole in order to prevent ice borehole collapse, and moving ice cuttings quickly and efficiently to the surface through the inner drill-pipe opening during creation of the deep borehole. The system takes advantage of using “off-the-shelf” components to the degree possible, using time-tested and field-deployable equipment, maintaining a light footprint, and controlling costs to the extent possible.

Other drilling systems were considered, including hot-water, coiled-tube, and wireline electromechanical drills. Although each provides some advantage, they were all discarded in the design process due a combination of high energy use, large fuel requirements, inability for use in rock coring, bulky design, susceptibility to embrittlement and fatigue, inability for field repair, slow cutting rates, and limits to length of core.

Principal design elements of the RAID drilling system include, from top to bottom: (1) a diamond drilling rig, modified to fit on a sled-based ISO-type rack/container with a hoistable shroud; (2) a pipe rack, for storage and delivery of auger flights, casing pipe, and drill rods to the rig; (3) diesel power generators installed in a sled-based ISO container; (4) a mechanical shop/inventory container; (5) a custom-designed fluid recirculation system, outfitted within a sled-based ISO container; (6) metal-pipe casing and an inflatable packer unit to make a fluid-tight connection through porous firn between the drill rig and impermeable glacial ice below; and (7) a wireline-deployable bottom-hole diamond drilling and coring assembly capable of retrieving ice, sediment and rock cores.

RAID is both new and experimental, requiring that the entire system be designed from the ground up. Although such a system to allow for deep, rapid access through the ice sheets of Antarctica has not been built before, the overall design borrows on existing technologies and successful operation of other drilling systems in Antarctica and Greenland. A series of planned shop and field tests of individual components and the complete integrated rig have validated the principal design.


Sign up to receive monthly newsletter updates on the RAID project in Antarctica.

Join Now!