Antarctic subglacial Vostok lake reached

Thu 09 Feb 2012


A Russian team has succeeded in drilling through four kilometres (2.5 miles) of ice to the surface of a mythical subglacial Antarctic lake which could hold as yet unknown life forms, reports said 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.

The analysis of the composition of gas bubbles discovered in the ice above the lake could help climate change research. Because the lower layer was formed 400,000 years ago, from the composition of the gas it is possible to judge the gas composition in the atmosphere 400,000 years ago and during the time that has passed since the formation of the lake.  From there, it is possible to identify and forecast certain climatic changes in the future. 

Exploring environments such as Lake Vostok would allow scientists to discover what life forms can exist in the most extreme conditions and thus whether life could exist on some other bodies in the solar system.

There is still controversy over the methods used by Russia, with Western scientists expressing concern that the kerosene that has been used to prevent freezing ice from closing the borehole risks contaminating samples. Another subglacial lake in west Antarctica called Lake Ellsworth would be drilled next year, using a different technique called hot-water drilling.

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