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Antarctic research project featured in New York Times

By Kari VanDerVeen
January 16, 2013

St. Olaf Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel in Antarctica, where he has worked with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Knut Christianson '05 to complete more than 1,000 km of gridded radar profiles of a lake that lies beneath half a mile of ice. At times, the two navigated through storms and whiteout conditions using only GPS.

For the past two years, St. Olaf College Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Knut Christianson '05 have studied the properties of a lake that lies beneath nearly 800 meters of ice in Western Antarctica.

Now, as a story in the New York Times notes, their research team is about to start the much-anticipated process of drilling through the half mile of glacial ice that separates the lake from the surface of Antarctica.

The goal of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project is to draw samples from the lake that will enable scientists to study the aquatic ecosystem that exists deep under the Antarctic ice.

The WISSARD team is comprised of 13 principal investigators — including Jacobel — from eight different academic institutions, with additional collaborators from around the world. At St. Olaf, the WISSARD project is part of the college's Center for Geophysical Studies of Ice and Climate.

In Antarctica, Jacobel and Christianson have been responsible for determining the geophysical characterization of the lake. The data they've gathered, which shows the dimensions and hydrology of the lake, played a crucial role in helping the team determine where to drill.

St. Olaf student researchers also worked with Jacobel to analyze data about the lake, and they presented their research at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.

An announcement of what the WISSARD team finds after drilling down to Lake Whillans could come in the next few weeks.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or