Kidderminster, UK -- Specially designed polyurethane bellows manufactured by UK engineering group Beakbane will play a crucial role in a project to explore Lake Ellsworth, an ancient lake 3 km below the ice of Antarctica.
The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) project involves drilling through the ice to the lake and sending down probes to sample the lake water and the sediments on the lake bed.
The specially designed bellows will provide a sealed protective container for the water-sampling probe, ensuring it has no contact with the outside world and remains sterile from assembly to deployment in the lake.
Funded by the National Environmental Research Council, the Lake Ellsworth project is a partnership between British Antarctic Survey, the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and eight UK universities
The NOC is responsible for designing and manufacturing the probe that will sample the water in the lake, as well as for the system to deploy it down the 3-km borehole in the middle of the polar wilderness.
The 5-m long polyurethane bellows manufactured by Kidderminster-based Beakbane must stay flexible down to -35 deg C, be tough enough to withstand the journey to Antarctica and withstand exposure to hydrogen peroxide vapour.
"The project will bore through the ice to take samples and search for life in the waters, which have been cut off from the outside world for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of years," said Kevin Saw, the mechanical engineer who heads the NOC design team.
The results will show whether life can exist in these extreme conditions of pitch dark, water temperatures of -2 deg C and high pressures, and give a window on life on earth in the distant past.
See more on this project in the forthcoming issue of Urethanes Technology International.