A Diver, A Carpenter & A Drill Operator Walk Into a Bar…

In order to SCUBA dive under the sea ice of Antarctica, one must first create an entrance into, and (more importantly) an exit from, the frozen Southern Ocean.

On October 20th, 2023, we drilled an ice hole at the Cinder Cones dive site, located ~45 minutes away from McMurdo towards the Erebus Volcano.

At 9 am the dive team met the drill operator, the carpenters, and the sea ice field safety team at the ice pier. The drill operator towed the Terex drill, dive hut, and drill bit out to the site using a bulldozer. The carpenters (who de-winterize the huts) drove a pisten bully and towed the fuel for the gas heater. The field safety team drove a Haglund and were responsible for navigating a safe route for us across the ice cracks. Finally, the divers joined the caravan in two pisten bullys.

As we made our way (slowly) toward the desired dive site, we had to stop often when we saw signs of cracks in the ice. Every crack must be profiled: drilled on either side using a Kovacs drill and the thickness of the ice and the width of the gap measured with a weighted measuring tape. We then do a quick calculation to determine which, if any, of our vehicles can cross safely. Over the decades, a few vehicles have fallen through the sea ice near McMurdo, including the tractor “Big John”!

Here is a video outlining all the activities from the day, including our caravan across the sea ice, profiling cracks, navigating a safe path to Cinder Cones, attaching the drill bit to the Terex drill, drilling our hole, and dragging our dive hut into place so that we have a nice warm area to kit up for diving.

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