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Russians Drill 2 Miles Through Antarctic Ice To Reach Lake

Russians Drill 2 Miles Through Antarctic Ice To Reach Lake

It sounds like something from The Twilight Zone, but it’s really happening.

Russian scientists have drilled into the vast, dark and never-before-touched Lake Vostok 2.2 miles below the surface of Antarctica, the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Monday.

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?

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Photo Credit: HamishM

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98 comments

+ add your own
6:39PM PST on Dec 28, 2012

Thanks

3:53AM PST on Feb 12, 2012

Thanks for sharing

5:25PM PST on Feb 11, 2012

I think that it is damn exciting and maybe an amazing result---discovery of some kind, hopefully not a vile pathogen! Carol P. has it right!

4:24AM PST on Feb 11, 2012

Drilling never has a good outcome from the wilderness/environment perspective

8:21PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

I don't know if its a good thing or bad thing. I can't help but think something could go very wrong with this (I hope I am wrong)

4:43AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

I'm with Carol P on this one...

2:05AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

It's the Russian expedition hence the fishiness MUST be constructed. The Russians are doing EVERYTHING badly and meanly - that's the most important brainwashing thesis.

If it were the USA expedition (naming itself as "the American expedition" turgidly despite the absence of Brazilian, Mexican, Cuban or Canadian scientists), there would be presented no doubts.

11:28PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

Haven't any of you heard the news?! No one has been able to contact the drilling team for over 9 days. No one can get in there to check on them, so no one knows what's happened to them.

(Perhaps there really ARE Atlanteans living under the earth's crust, and when the scientists broke through, the Atlanteans from Hollow Earth took them hostage...)

11:17PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

Wished they would leave it alone ... the earth is already so badly 'mutilated' and her wrath has been felt all over the world in the form of natural disasters.

9:05PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

Good answer by Carol. I love the idea of the scientific discoveries they could make, and I fear the Koch Brothers or someone like them will find a way to use that fascinating pristine lake to steal everything valuable in it and turn it into a poisoned dumping ground for, say, radioactive waste.

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