It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
(visit the link for the full news article)
After more than two decades of drilling in Antarctica, Russian scientists have reached a gigantic freshwater lake hidden under miles of ice for about 20 million years - a pristine body of water that may hold life from the distant past and clues to the search for life on other planets.
Finally touching the surface of Lake Vostok, the largest of nearly 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, is a major discovery avidly anticipated by scientists around the world.
The Russian team hit the lake on Sunday at a depth of 3769 metres about 1300 kilometres south-east of the South Pole in the central part of the continent.
Scientists hope the lake may allow a glimpse into microbial life forms that existed before the Ice Age and are not visible to the naked eye. Scientists believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake despite its high pressure and constant cold - conditions similar to those expected to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Lukin said Russia had waited for several years for international approval of its drilling technology before proceeding to reach the lake. He said about 1.5 cubic metres of kerosene and freon poured up to the surface tanks from the boreshaft, proof that the lake water streamed up from underneath, froze and then blocked the hole, sealing off the chance that any toxic chemicals could contaminate.
Russian scientists will remove the frozen sample for analysis in December when the next Antarctic summer season comes. They reached the lake just before they had to leave at the end of the Antarctic summer, as plunging temperatures halted air links.
The drilling project has been opposed by some environmental groups and scientists who have argued that hot-water drilling would do less environmental damage. The Russians explained that hot-water drilling required more power than they could generate at their remote camp.
Scientists of the United States National Research Council have taken the position that it should be assumed that microbial life exists in Lake Vostok and that after such a long isolation, any life forms in the lake require strict protection from contamination.
Sediments on its floor should give clues to its long-term climate, and isotopes in its water are expected to help geologists determine how and when subglacial lakes such as Lake Vostok form. Meticulously documented decontamination procedures will be required to establish the credibility of the scientific data obtained.
The original drilling technique employed by the Russians involved the use of Freon and kerosene to lubricate the borehole and prevent it from collapsing and freezing over; 60 tons of these chemicals have been used thus far on the ice above Lake Vostok.
Other countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have failed to persuade the Russians not to pierce to the lake until cleaner technologies such as hot-water drilling are available.
Though the Russians claim to have improved their operations, they continue to use the same borehole, which has already been filled with kerosene. According to the head of Russian Antarctic Expeditions, Valery Lukin, new equipment was developed by researchers at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute that would ensure the lake remains uncontaminated upon intrusion.
Lukin has repeatedly reassured other signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty System that the drilling will not affect the lake, arguing that on breakthrough, water will rush up the borehole, freeze, and seal the chemical fluids out.
Environmentalist pressure groups remain unconvinced by these arguments.
The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition has argued that this manner of drilling is a profoundly misguided step which endangers Lake Vostok itself and also other subglacial lakes in Antarctica (which some scientists are convinced are inter-linked with Lake Vostok).
The coalition has asserted that "it would be far preferable to join with other countries to penetrate a smaller and more isolated lake before re-examining whether penetration of Lake Vostok is environmentally defensible. If we are wise, the Lake will be allowed to reveal its secrets in due course."
Originally posted by Pervius
They used kerosene to keep the deep hole they were drilling from freezing shut in the Antarctic Lake. So when they poked through finally, all that kerosene hit the most pristene fresh water reservoir on Earth. Anything that WAS alive there....is now likely DEAD.
Originally posted by Kryties
The Russian team hit the lake on Sunday at a depth of 3769 metres about 1300 kilometres south-east of the South Pole in the central part of the continent....
How can there be a place SOUTH east of the south pole? Wouldn't North be the only direction from the South pole? Sorry for this, but it just jumped at me.