Drilling a rock core at the Friis Hills, 2016 photo Richard Levy medium

Drilling a rock core at Friis Hills, 2016. Photo: Richard Levy, GNS Science

Friis Hills drilling project: New findings

7 July 2023

Funded by the Antarctic Science Platform and led by GNS Science and Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, with Richard Levy and Tim Naish as co-lead scientists, the project team carried out an ambitious and challenging drilling programme over the Antarctic summer season of 2016-17. The drilling team included Alex Pyne from VUW and Tony Kingan and Adam Rutten from Porirua-based Webster Drilling and Exploration. The extensive Antarctic drilling experience offered by this team allowed recovery of a near continuous composite 80m thick sediment core from three locations in the Friis Hills.

The Hills are located at the bend of the Taylor Glacier, in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. It contains a unique sequence of sediments deposited approximately 15 million years ago as glaciers advanced and retreated across a landscape that was periodically covered by lakes, rivers, and tundra vegetation. Sediments of this age are incredibly rare in Antarctica. The paleoenvironmental and paleontological information and data that the cores contain are critical to guide our understanding of Antarctica’s past climatic and glacial conditions.

"The cores we drilled on the summit of Friis Hills contain valuable insights into the past. They also give us a glimpse of what may happen in Antarctica, if we fail to meet our carbon dioxide emission goals and reach net zero targets by 2050." - Prof Richard Levy
Friis Hills Taylor Glacier East Antarctic Ice Sheet beyond photo Adam Lewis medium

Friis Hills and Taylor Glacier, with the East Antarctica Ice Sheet beyond. Photo: Adam Lewis

The team drilled very early in the season to take advantage of the cold temperatures so that the permafrost sediments did not melt. Each core section was wrapped in lay-flat tubing, stored in ice-core boxes, and transported by helicopter to a freezer lab at Scott Base, where they were X-rayed. All cores were subsequently shipped to the National Ice Core Facility, housed at the GNS Science campus in Gracefield, Lower Hutt where they are carefully stored to this day. The facility manager, Rebecca Pyne, also helped curate the cores in the field. Scientists continue to examine and re-examine these valuable repositories.

GNS Science has profiled what the Friis Hills data has been used for; read about it here