Russian Scientists Breach 20 Million Year Old Lake

Author: Graziella Grech
Published: February 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Drilling in Lake Vostok

In the latest news from the National Geographic, on Sunday 5th February 2012, Russian scientists have broken new ground when they penetrated 4,000 meters to ice to a subglacial lake in Antarctica. Subglacial lakes, as the name infers, are lakes trapped underneath a mass of ice, or glaciers. The pressure extended from the huge mass of ice allows the water near the bottom to retain its liquid form.

The lake in question is Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake found in Antarctica. The project to penetrate 4,000 meters of ice to reach the lake has been ongoing for the last 20 years and on Sunday, the Russian team, broke the thin layer of ice surrounding the lake allowing for a large gush of water to exit the borehole. This water has been untouched for 20 million years.

Environmentalists have exhibited concern over the chemicals used to drill the borehole as these may contaminate the lake. The Russian scientists explained that they used clean hot-water drilling to drill the last few meters of ice. As the water rushed to the surface, the pressure pushed out all the toxic chemicals such as kerosene and Freon to the surface. The water froze instantly thus trapping any dangerous chemicals in ice, meaning that for now, it seems that no chemicals have penetrated the lake surface.

The scientists have now left the site and will remove the frozen body of water, which has rushed into the borehole, at the next Antarctic summer in November 2012. They will need to do a thorough investigation of the sample in order to discard any contamination from the drilling chemicals. This is, however, a great breakthrough for science as we are about to investigate an environment which has been untouched since before man even existed.

The biggest question now is what lies in Lake Vostok. Back in 1999, two independent research groups claim to have discovered microbial life forms trapped in the ice above Lake Vostok. Both teams suggested that there may be hosts of microbes living in the lake. Other research teams have later disputed that the microbes were found in the equipment used to drill the ice, rather than in the ice itself. It looks like the time has come where we can finally put the debate to rest. If the research team is correct, we are about to uncover an alien planet in our own back yard.


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Article Author: Graziella Grech

I come from Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean. My background is in computer science, but I try to distract myself from daily life with different hobbies. I enjoy gardening, and at home I try to keep my own container garden which I write about in my blog. …

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