Ancient Antarctic Ice Sampled In Lake Vostok Drill

Article written: 8 Feb , 2012
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Sealed off for millions of years beneath an almost impenetrable layer of ice, Lake Vostok has kept a vast archive of ancient history waiting for just the right moment to reveal itself. Here is a unique closed ecosystem captured in time below four kilometers of ice. Saved from environmental contamination, its water has been isolated from Earth’s atmosphere, and the outside world, long before man existed. Only one burning question remains… Could this pristine pocket of Lake Vostok show signs of early life?

“According to our research, the quantity of oxygen there exceeds that on other parts of our planet by 10 to 20 times. Any life forms that we find are likely to be unique on Earth,” says Sergey Bulat, the Chief Scientist of Russia’s Antarctic Expedition to Russian Reporter magazine.

So why be so excited over finding a few organisms? The reason is clear as the hidden waters. If a life form could exist here, it could also exist on a similar world…. Jupiter’s satellite, Europa.

“The discovery of microorganisms in Lake Vostok may mean that, perhaps, the first meeting with extra-terrestrial life could happen on Europa,” said Dr Vladimir Kotlyakov, Director of the Geography Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences to Vzglyad newspaper.

Image from earth.columbia.edu

However, drilling through over 3,700 meters of pure ice hasn’t been an easy process – especially when you’re working in temperatures as low as minus 80 centigrade. The chill thrill drill began in 1970, but it was over 25 years later before Russian specialists discovered the hidden lake beneath the ice sheet. Along with British support, they then began sonar and satellite imagining to reveal one of the world’s largest undisclosed fresh water reservoirs. Now, speculation began in earnest. What might these waters contain? Could it be tiny microbes? Or perhaps even a dangerous organism… There was only one way to find out. Drill and sample.

“Everything but the samples themselves will be carefully decontaminated using radiation. There is no need to worry,” Valeriy Lukin, Head of the Antarctic Expedition told Russian Reporter Magazine. According to researchers at the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, they surmise the findings as “the only giant super-clean water system on the planet.” and pristine water will be “twice cleaner than double-distilled water.”

Over the last few decades, there had been a lot of discord over anti-freeze drilling methods – each with its pros and cons. From kerosene to Freon – even hot water – the end result needed to be the same. No chance of contamination… either to the samples or the native environment. As it ended up, the Russian method of using the former turned out to be fine when 40 liters of frozen, pure water came to light on February 4. Just a day later, 1,500 liters of kerosene and Freon poured into special containers with no problems and the sample proved to be immaculate. The clear waters are now safely tucked away in sterile containers and are heading back home.

“I can say that everyone at Bellingshausen on the Antarctic Peninsula could probably tell you down to the meter what the daily progress of the drilling was at the Vostok Station in the center of the continent.” says reporter, Sean Thomas. ” After all, the work at Lake Vostok was a Russian project, at a Russian base with Russian scientists, so there is a lot of pride in the work that is being done there.”

Original Story Source: RT News.

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4 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    …and at least for once not the dubious NASA claims of Arsenic feeding lifeforms nor an American scientist in sight. This milestone story shows the important global efforts in science rather than the usual singular nationalistic bias.

    British Professor Martin Siegert, leader, who is involved in another project to investigate body of water at Lake Elisworth, says it very well. As the general media has reported;

    “It is an important milestone that has been completed and a major achievement for the Russians because they’ve been working on this for years,… The Russian team share our mission to understand subglacial lake environments and we look forward to developing collaborations with their scientists and also those from the US and other nations, as we all embark on a quest to comprehend these pristine, extreme environments…”

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  3. Torbjörn Larsson says

    As I heard it, they have water from an ice lens a few meters above the sea to bring back. While the sea water filled ~ 30-40 meter of the hole to form an ice plug that can be studied next season (later this year).

    And they finished on Sunday, while Tuesday is the last day out of Antarctica!

    Sealed off for millions of years

    The ice cover is ~ 30-40 million years, but the waters flow beneath. The hypothesis is at least ~ 0.1 million years fro the water.

    The sediments and its trapped waters will be older.

    signs of early life

    Any life is as old as we are evolutionary, but will be adapted to extreme conditions similar to ice-locked moons.

  4. Anonymous says

    looking forward to reading more about this. thanks tammy.

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