February 9, 2012
Russian Team Becomes First To Reach Subglacial Lake
After two decades of on-again, off-again work, a team of Russian scientists claim to have successfully drilled through the frozen crust of Antarctica and into a gigantic, subglacial body of water that had been buried beneath the ice for millions of years.
The body of water in question is Lake Vostok, which according to BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos is one of more than 300 glacial lakes known to exist on that continent.
Lake Vostok had been untouched for at least 14 million years, added Alissa de Carbonnel of Reuters, and the scientists behind the feat hope that they will be able to learn more about Antarctica's history, discover new life forms, and sneak a peek at what Earth might have been like in the days prior to the ice age.
"The 57th Russian Antarctic expedition has penetrated the waters of the subglacial Lake Vostok," expedition head Valery Lukin said in a statement, according to de Carbonnel.
"The discovery of this lake is comparable to the first space flight in its technological complexity, its importance and its uniqueness," he added in comments made to the Interfax news agency, also quoted by Reuters.
Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic News reported that the drillers discovered lake water at depths of 12,355 feet, which Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) claims makes them the first team to ever successfully probe a subglacial lake.
Dell'Amore says that they accomplished the feat at 8:25pm Moscow time on Sunday.
Lukin's team did not take a water sample in order to avoid contaminating it with kerosene and Freon, the expedition head told AFP. Rather, they are opting to wait until the continent's summer months, when they anticipate a "column of water to rise up through the borehole and freeze."
The samples should be collected in December 2012 and January 2013, and will be transported back to Russian onboard a research vessel next May.
"It is an important milestone that has been completed and a major achievement for the Russians because they've been working on this for years," Professor Martin Siegert, principal investigator for a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) team that plans to drill into Lake Ellsworth on the Western part of the continent later this year, told Amos.
Likewise, Texas A&M University Oceanography Professor Mahlon C. Kennicutt II told National Geographic that the discovery "should be celebrated“¦ Fifteen years ago we couldn't imagine the day there would be penetration of one of these lakes."
"Penetrating Lake Vostok culminates more than a decade of planning," added Montana State University ecologist John Priscu. "The success of my Russian colleagues proves, from an engineering standpoint, that we can sample an environment beneath 4,000 meters [13,000 feet] of ice. It also opens the doors for ensuing subglacial science."
As previously reported on RedOrbit.com, Lake Vostok is the largest of Antarctica´s hidden lakes, as well as one of the largest lakes in the world. Scientists also believe that it could provide a glimpse of what conditions exist for life in similar extreme conditions on Mars and Jupiter´s moon, Europa.
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
On the Net:
- Vostok Station
- Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI)
- British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
- Texas A&M University
- Montana State University