AMC retrofits ice corers for Extreme Expedition

'I’ve never met a problem they couldn’t fix’
Climate Change Institute explorer Mariusz Potocki collected the world’s highest ice core from this Mount Everest glacier. Climbers appear speck-size on the glacier. Photo by Mariusz Potocki

AMC retrofits ice corers for Extreme Expedition

'I’ve never met a problem they couldn’t fix’

When researchers conduct trailblazing exploration in punishing environments, off-the-shelf tools sometimes don’t make the cut.

Climate Change Institute researchers preparing for the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition needed ice-coring equipment light enough to be carried up 29,000 feet on Mount Everest. It also had to be rugged enough to endure severe situations, and work in a variety of snow and ice conditions.

To get that equipment, Dan Dixon headed across campus to the Advanced Manufacturing Center.

The CCI research assistant professor knows AMC project managers Kyle Forsythe and Forest Wentworth well. They’ve retrofitted ice-coring systems before.

“I’ve never met a problem they couldn’t fix,” says Dixon. “(AMC) is a luxury. They’re smart guys. I say, ‘We need to do this, can you make it happen?’”

Forsythe and Wentworth can. And do. And did. They altered a drilling system that had been tested in Iceland. Then, based on the system’s performance there, made additional tweaks. Among the changes — they made three off-the-shelf ice-coring systems lighter, altered the drill heads, and made holes in the barrels so ice chips can’t get jammed.

One system was used at Base Camp, and the climbing team took two (one for backup) up the mountain. Each system — which weighs 33 pounds — included extensions, drills of various sizes and shapes, toolkits and batteries. Lots of batteries.

CCI glaciochemist Mariusz Potocki said the revamped equipment performed perfectly as he collected the highest ice core in the world on South Col at 8,020 meters (26,321 feet).

“It was a beautiful day. There was wonderful ice there,” says Potocki, who had rehearsed the procedure over and over in his head, and talked about it with his tent mate from National Geographic’s media team.

“The glacier is a perfect shape. The drilling was amazing, phenomenal.”

As it turned out, even in the frigid, windy conditions, one battery powered the collection of the entire ice time capsule. Potocki now displays that battery on his desk.

Wentworth, who majored in mechanical engineering technology at UMaine, says the expedition’s success reminded him of how special his job is.

Forsythe, who earned a degree in engineering physics in Orono, says he’s gratified to have had a hand in the consequential project.

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