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Radar image of Lake Vostok. Copyright: NASA

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Published By

M.Sc. Armand van Wijck



Antarctica, drilling, Lake Vostok, ecosystem

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Russians about to uncover secrets of Lake Vostok

10.01.2011, Age: 3942 days

For 14 millon years, the waters of Lake Vostok remained hidden to the outside world, lurking underneath a 4,000 metres thick ice sheet. After all these years we are about to find out what the subglacial waters of Lake Vostok hold in store for us. With only a hundred meters left, Russia’s Artcic and Antarctic Research Insitute (AARI) speculates to drill through the bottom of the ice sheet by the end of this month.

A last hurdle for AARI’s drilling program was the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, which needed to approve the Russian’s comprehensive environmental evaluation (CEE), to ensure that the water is not going to be polluted by the drilling.

AARI Deputy Director dr Valery V. Lukin explains the current state of events in the popular science e-magazine of NewScientist: "Once the lake is reached, the water pressure will push the working body and the drilling fluid upwards in the borehole, and then freeze again," Lukin says. The following season, the team will go back to bore in that frozen water, take the sample out and analyse its contents.

"The bottom of the new borehole lies at 3650 metres, more or less 100 metres above the lake," says Lukin. "Beginning late December, we will first use a mechanical drill and the usual kerosene-freon to reach 3725 metres. Then, a newly developed thermal drill head, using a clean silicon-oil fluid and equipped with a camera, will go through the last 20 to 30 metres of ice."

According to NewScientist, some scientists showed some scepticism: Yves Frenot of the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor in Brest, France, doubts the Russians will penetrate the lake during this Antarctic summer. "In respect to the Antarctic Treaty, they should wait 60 days after having submitted their CEE, which would bring them almost to the end of the Antarctic season."

Food for thought (taken from WikiPedia)

“Due to the lake's similarity to the Jupiter moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, any confirmation of life living in Lake Vostok would strengthen the prospect for the possible presence of life on Europa or Enceladus.”

“It is suspected that the Antarctic subglacial lakes may be connected by a network of subterranean rivers. CPOM glaciologists Duncan Wingham (University College, London) and Martin Siegert (University of Bristol, now University of Edinburgh) published in Nature in 2006 that many of the subglacial lakes of Antarctica are at least temporarily interconnected. Because of varying water pressure in individual lakes, large, sub-surface rivers may suddenly form and then force large amounts of water through the solid ice.”

Wingham, DJ and Siegert, MJ and Shepherd, A and Muir, AS (2006) Rapid discharge connects Antarctic subglacial lakes. Nature, 440 (7087) , 1033 - 1036. DOI: 10.1038/nature04660.

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