It sounds like something from The Twilight Zone, but it’s really happening.
Lake Vostok is the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica and scientists want to study its eco-system which has been isolated for hundreds of thousands of years under the ice in the hope of finding previously unknown microbiological life forms.
300 Sub-Glacial Lakes In Antarctica
It is the first time such a breakthrough has been made into one of the more than 300 sub-glacial lakes known to exist on the White Continent.
I’ve never visited Antarctica, but everyone I know who has been there speaks of the continent’s amazing beauty, and spectacular pristine nature, so this news makes me nervous. Is drilling two miles through the ice good for the environment?
From the Russians, the answer is a definitive “Yes.”
On July 21, 1983, Temperature Was Minus 89C
From the BBC:
“This fills my soul with joy,” said Valery Lukin, from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg, which has been overseeing the project.
“This will give us the possibility to biologically evaluate the evolution of living organisms… because those organisms spent a long time without contact with the atmosphere, without sunlight,” he was quoted as saying in a translation of national media reports by BBC Monitoring.
The drilling project has taken years to plan and implement. The lake’s location in the heart of East Antarctic Ice Sheet is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.
It is the place where thermometers recorded the lowest ever temperature on the planet – minus 89C on 21 July 1983.
Lake Vostok Covers 15,000 Square Kilometers
Vostok Station was first set up in 1956. However, it was only in the 1970s when, with the help of radar, British scientists first started to suspect there might be something underneath all the ice. Lake Vostok was discovered to have an area of 15,000 square kilometers and depths reaching more than 800 meters.
Researchers have now identified more than 300 such bodies of water across Antarctica. They are kept liquid by geothermal heat and pressure, and are part of a vast and dynamic hydrological network at play under the ice sheet.
A Bad Idea For The Environment?
From the BBC:
Vladimir Chuprov, from Greenpeace Russia, commented: “There is a set of risks which can damage this relic lake and some of them are connected with polluting the lake with the drilling fluids, as well as other stuff that can get into this unique lake.”
The drilling team counters that is has taken the necessary precautions.
The Vostok project is not the only venture being undertaken on the White Continent.
British Expedition Set To Drill By End Of 2012
An American crew is targeting Lake Whillans, and British researchers have an ambitious plan to explore Lake Ellsworth. An advance party has already braved freezing temperatures to set up vital equipment and supplies, and the project by UK engineers to drill through the two-mile-thick ice-sheet is scheduled for the end of the year.
The aims are to search for signs of life in the waters and to extract sediments from the lake floor to better understand the past climate. The task is so complex that preparations have had to be spread over two Antarctic summer seasons.
Does the idea of drilling two miles into Antarctic ice make you nervous? Or is this an amazing breakthrough?
What do you think?
Photo Credit: HamishM