Russian Scientists Reach Ancient Antarctic Lake
February 6, 2012

Russian Scientists Reach Ancient Antarctic Lake

After years of drilling, Russian scientists have finally managed to reach down to reveal a unique sub-glacial lake.

The scientists drilled 12,362 feet to reach the sub-glacial Antarctic lake, Vostok, which has been sealed for the past 20 million years.

Explorers hope the lake could reveal new forms of life, and show how life evolved before the ice age.

The discovery of the hidden lakes of Antarctica in the 1990s sparked enthusiasm from scientists across the globe.

Some believe the ice cap above and at the edges have created a hydrostatic seal with the surface that has prevented lake water from escaping, or anything else from getting inside.

Lake Vostok is the largest of Antarctica's hidden lakes, and is also one of the largest lakes in the world.

The lake could offer a glimpse of what conditions exist for life in similar extreme conditions on Mars and Jupiter's moon, Europa.

Scientists believe this is the first time the lake has been exposed to air in more than 20 million years.

In order to insure the water has not become contaminated once it is exposed to air, the scientists agreed to drill until a sensor warned them of free water.

At that point, they used kerosene and adjusted the pressure so none of the liquids would fall into the lake, but rather lake water would rise through the hole due to pressure from below.

The lake could be 14 million years old, but the water could be just tens or hundreds of thousands of years old because water may flow between different sub-glacial lakes.

The scientists will not be able to sample the lake water until late 2012, according to a report by the Scientific American.  Winter is starting to bring colder temperatures, and the scientists must retreat from Antarctica while aircraft can still operate.

American and British teams are also exploring the hidden Antarctica lakes.  Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey are drilling down to Lake Ellsworth later this year, while U.S. scientists hope to study the sub glacial Whillans Ice Stream.


Image Caption: The surface above Lake Vostok, hidden under more than a kilometer of ice, looks like most of Antarctica´s landscape–flat, barren, and icy. The best way to detect a subglacial lake is through remote sensing. Credit: M. Studinger, LDEO


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