Geologists conduct drilling demonstration at Naturally Illinois Expo

Geologists went to bedrock Saturday, but they did not go with The Flintstones.

Geologists from the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University drilled a borehole that reached bedrock at approximately 300 feet on Saturday, and they plan to drill about 60 feet below that. The borehole extracted glacial deposits that date as far back as about 300 million years.

The drilling took place in a grassy area between the Natural Resources Building and Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the Naturally Illinois Expo on Friday and Saturday, which was hosted by the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability.

“Drilling is a major way to get soil samples because Illinois is fairly flat,” said Michael Barnhardt, senior geologist in the quaternary geology section at the geological survey.

A drill bit cuts a hole into the ground and a few inches below it is a hollow 10-foot-long pipe that extends into the ground and collects the fresh sediment. The drillers then add more pipes to extend lower into the ground, he said.

William Shilts, executive director of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, said the borehole was drilled to educate the public, but also to create a permanent site to test equipment and monitor conditions underground. They are drilling through glacial deposits to try to draw up a geological map of Champaign-Urbana by comparing data from other boreholes around the area.

Barnhardt said studying modern-day glaciers is important to understanding the deposits being extracted from the borehole.

“You study how the sediments are being deposited at the ice front and you can see the equivalence in that modern record and the record here that’s several hundred thousand years old,” he said. “By studying modern-day environments, you understand the processes that create those environments, you understand the sediments and then you make a direct comparison to the stuff that’s buried.”

Scott Elrick, coal geologist at the geological survey, said the team found small pieces of coal in some of the deposits, which indicates that there might be more coal somewhere nearby. The team hopes to find more coal in this borehole, like the coal found in the deposits of the one south of Lincoln Avenue and Windsor Road.

“If we don’t find coal here, that’s pretty interesting too,” Elrick said. “The reason why is because it informs us of the boundary of where the coal might be.”

This borehole is also part of a county-wide project working with the Illinois American Water Company and the Illinois Water Survey.

“The project is to look at the geology of Champaign County in order to find out where there is a potential water source,” said Andy Stumpf, a geologist at the survey. “We don’t expect to (find water here), but you never know.”

A slew of parents, grandparents and children watched the drillers work and talked with geologists about the display of glacial deposits from the borehole, as well as the coal deposits found in the one south of Lincoln Avenue and Windsor Road.

Christine Reiling, a biology teacher at Urbana High School, her children, Allison, 9, and Evan, 7, and the children’s stepfather, Jay Creek, attended the drilling demonstration on Saturday.

“These guys have always been interested in science,” Reiling said of her children. “We wanted to see what the natural side of Illinois has to offer.”

Reiling said the family also attended the demonstration so her daughter could see what geologists do since Allison wants to become a geologist someday.

“They’ll never know what opportunities they have if you never show them,” Creek said.

Whitney Banning, graduate student in ACES, attended the drilling event to support some of her friends working on the project and to see how the machinery works.

“It’s pretty amazing how deep they can drill and the information they can collect from the core samples,” Banning said.