Race to reach Antarctica’s buried Lake Vostok ‘nearly over’Published On: Sun, Feb 6th, 2011 | Geology | By BioNews
Russian scientists are on the brink of revealing the secrets of Lake Vostok – they are left with only 20 meters (164 feet) away to hit their goal depth.
Vostok is a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica, hidden some 4,000m (13,000ft) beneath the ice sheet.
Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute has been overseeing the team’s endeavours for the past few weeks as the scientists have drilled non-stop.
February 6th marks the end of the Antarctic summer – which means conditions surrounding the lake turn substantially more hostile and planes will no longer be able to land near the researchers’ base.
Currently, the team is working in -40 degrees Celsius, but during the winter, it can get twice as freezing.
Vostok boasts the lowest recorded temperature on Earth: -89.4 degrees Celsius.
“I know they will try everything they can to get through this year,” John Priscu, professor of Ecology at Montana State University.
“Once they reach the lake water, they want to get the water up through the hole and let it freeze there over the winter. Then they’ll come back next year and start to do research on what they find,” he added.
While there are only a few researchers that are actually working at the lake, scientists around the globe have been waiting with baited breath to see what the Russian’s unearth this weekend.
“We are terribly interested in what they find,” Alan Rodger, a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey.
“This is a lake that we don’t think has been exposed for 15 million years. Therefore, if there is life there, we’re going to have so many questions. How has it evolved over those years, how has it survived, what does it look like? Won’t it be exciting to find something completely new on Planet Earth?” he said.
Scientists are more than a little excited, since they have been waiting for this moment for quite some time.
The Lake Vostok project has been years in the making, with initial drilling at the massive lake – 15,690 sq km – starting in 1998.
Initially, they were able to reach 3,600 m, but had to stop due to concerns of possible contamination of the never-before-touched lake water.
“Ice isn’t like rock, it’s capable of movement. So in order to keep the hole from squeezing shut, they put a fluid in the drill called kerosene. Kerosene also grows bacteria, and there’s about 65 tons of kerosene in that hole. It would be a disaster if that kerosene contaminated this pristine lake,” said Priscu.
Scientists, however, agreed to drill until a sensor warned them of free water. At that point they will take out the right amount of kerosene and adjust the pressure so that none of the liquids fall into the lake, but rather lake water would rise through the hole.
But it is still uncertain whether or not the team will even get to that point this year. (ANI)