Science cafe talks about Antarctic drilling project

ou can check an app on your phone to see what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, but what about 10 or even 100 years from now? To predict climate changes, geologists are drilling into the heart of Antarctic ice and studying the effects of millions of years of weather.

Northern Illinois University STEM Outreach will present another event in its popular STEM Cafe series, “WISSARDs of the Antarctic,” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at Eduardo’s, 214 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. The program will focus on the National Science Foundation-supported WISSARD project (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling), which is using a hot water drill to explore the environment beneath the Antarctic ice sheet.

WISSARD’s co-leader, Ross Powell, a distinguished research professor in NIU’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, will speak. He says that the work he and his team are doing in Antarctica will give scientists clues about Earth’s warming and cooling cycles and the effects of climate change.

Powell will also discuss the drilling process, which required the team to bore through 800 meters of ice using a hot-water drill fitted with a filtration and germicidal system. The drill was specially designed to prevent contamination of the subglacial environment and to recover clean samples for microbial analyses. The WISSARD team spent more than three months in Antarctica last year and will return again soon to continue their research.

“STEM Cafes are fun, casual events where adults can eat, drink, and chat with world-class scientists like Ross Powell,” STEM Associate Judith Dymond said. “Antarctica is one of the world’s last great frontiers. While most of us won’t get to experience the frozen continent first hand, the STEM Cafe will give people an opportunity to talk to Powell and learn how his research can shed light on issues like climate change and rising sea levels.”

STEM Cafes are free and open to the public. Food and drinks are available for purchase. For more information visit www.niu.edu/stem or contact Dymond at jdymond@niu.edu or 815-753-4751.

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