Preparing for drilling in Iceland, by Brighid

In a few weeks time I’ll be kicking off the next big phase of investigations at the Virkisjokull glacier observatory in Iceland. My job is to dive deeper into the liquid side of things by drilling and testing boreholes to help us look at how glacial meltwater interacts with groundwater, and installing equipment to monitor how this changes over time.

Where i'm heading - Icefall at Virkisjokull, taken by Jez and the field crew out there last year

To do that, I’m going to be working there at the glacier for about a month, along with my BGS colleague Paul Wilson, and an Icelandic drilling company. We’ll be living just round the corner from the glacier in a comfy self-catering house, so travelling to work each day will be easy, and the house has excellent wifi, so I’ll be able to keep in touch with friends and family back home. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the uncharacteristic dry spell of weather Iceland’s been having for the last few months carries on, because I’ve heard it usually rains a lot…
Last year the guys saw a spot of rain
Getting ready for this is taking a fair amount of organising – just like all the work at Virkisjokull does, as Jez Everest, the project manager, will testify to – working in a remote, sub-arctic environment is tricky! First I had to find a driller: not any old driller, but someone who’s got experience in making the kind of carefully constructed observation boreholes we need. That meant searching for and emailing every drilling company I could find in Iceland, and after quite a few interesting emails and phone calls I eventually found someone who seemed to fit the bill. Then a couple of weeks ago Jez and I made a flying visit to Iceland to meet our chosen driller – Árni Kópsson of Vatnsborun Drilling – and discuss the project with him, which went really well; for me to see the glacier site for the first time, and get a better idea of where the boreholes should go and what conditions we can expect when the drilling starts; and to talk to the local land owners – the National Park office and local farmers – to explain about the boreholes and make sure they’re happy with what we’re doing. 
Drilling rig in the driller's yard in Reykjavik - next time I see this it will hopefully be at the glacier!
 It was amazing seeing Europe’s largest ice cap and ‘our’ glacier (as Jez calls it) for the first time! It’s a stunning part of the world, and I’m really excited about going back, starting work, and getting to know the area a bit better. But I’m also a bit nervous – having been involved in lots of water borehole drilling over the last 15 years, I know all about the many little things that can go wrong, slow work down, and force you to change your plans, even close to home – let alone at an icy, remote Icelandic site! But dealing with the unexpected is part and parcel of science research, and so I’m just trying to prepare for every eventuality I can think of. This week I’ve been making lists, and putting together a pallet of bulky and/or heavy kit which will be shipped out to Iceland in time for us to use. Like pumps and water level dippers for testing the boreholes; steel capped boots and hard hats for working on a drill site; and water chemistry sampling equipment. And I’ve been buying enough plastic screen and casing to construct piezometers in our boreholes – they don’t make it in Iceland so that has to be sent out from the UK too. And trying to decide which are the most reliable and accurate water level loggers to install in the piezos – and how many we can afford!
Pallet i'm filling full of kit, destined for Iceland
Watch this space for more news when we get back out to Virkisjokull and start drilling in mid August! Now, I’m off to finish packing that shipping pallet, and get on with writing a talk for that conference in Dundee next week…
Senior Hydrogeologist

British Geological Survey
Murchison House
West Mains Road
Edinburgh EH9 3LA


Unknown said…
Have you tried it with a little help from drilling companies?
Unknown said…
If you ask your public regulators the query 'how is tap water examined for contamination', they will probably say that it has been examined as per guidelines and that the pollutants discovered in water are within the conventional boundaries set by the EPA. Tap water examples have been examined and it has been discovered that the stage of bacterial and substance pollutants were far greater than what is recommended by the EPA. How can this happen?
Unknown said…
That project is both interesting and dangerous at the same time. Your main hindrance here would have to be the arctic cold. Anyway, I’m curious about to your observation with regard to the interaction of the meltwater; and how it can benefit the main users of the reservoir.

Jermaine Ryan @ Loadcraft Industries, Ltd.