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The onset of the Antarctic winter has forced a team of Russian explorers to postpone the conclusion of their effort to drill a borehole to subglacial Lake Vostok until the next Antarctic summer. All are traveling on board a Russian ship to Cape Town and are expected home on Sunday.
Their borehole is now at 3,270 metres below the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet. Lake Vostok is within just 50 metres.
Originally posted by anon72
Well, something tells me the "site" would be prime for the pickins'-if you could get there.
Interviewed by the BBC ,Dr Ekaikin said "Up until 3 km down, drilling is usually relatively easy - it has been done in Greenland and here in Antarctica. But after 3 km and as we near the bottom [of the ice sheet], the ice temperature gets very close to the ice melting point, and all sorts of problems begin."
That is why for the past few weeks, the team had been advancing at a snail's pace - about 1.6m a day.
But in 1998, as the drill reached within a hundred yards of the surface of the lake, they deliberately stopped. No one wanted to risk contaminating the water.
To keep the ice hole from freezing shut as they worked, however, the Russian scientists over the years pumped it full of aviation fuel and Freon. Now there is too much drilling fluid to be safely pumped out of the hole, stored aboveground, recycled or removed, Russian officials have reported.
At least 60 tons of the toxic chemicals sit in a narrow column that reaches to within a few hundred feet of the lake, like a needle poised above a bubble of expectations.
Over the years, the Russian scientists here have endured temperatures colder than parts of Mars, dwindling support and reflexive skepticism about the quality of their research from colleagues in Europe and the United States.
Recent financial cutbacks in the Russian Antarctic Program mean that Vostok can be resupplied just once a year. Fuel and food are hauled overland by tractors about 900 miles from the coast. Mechanical breakdowns sometimes prevent the overland tractor trains from reaching Vostok.
It was Russian scientists at Vostok Station who discovered the lake and who first realized its unique potential. Now they hope that the international effort to explore the life in the lake might benefit their own faltering research program.
In the most ambitious drilling program ever undertaken on the southernmost continent, the Russian scientists produced the world's deepest ice core, containing an irreplaceable chemical record of more than 400,000 years of Earth's changing climate and atmosphere. They did not learn of the lake's existence or appreciate its importance until the project neared completion.
Originally posted by manmental
I hope they find strange things down there.
Originally posted by Jeremiah Johnson
Well that's not very comforting news concerning the the fuel and freon just sitting there. What if it was to seep through the remaining ice and get into the lake if it already hasn't?