Opening a new scientific frontier lying under the Antarctic ice, Russian researchers have drilled down and finally reached the surface of the gigantic freshwater lake, Lake Vostok. The mission chief likened the achievement to placing a man on the moon. Drilling in the area of the lake began 22 years ago in 1990, but progressed slowly as a result of funding shortages, equipment breakdowns, difficulties of drilling in the “warm” ice, and environmental concerns. In 1996, six years after drilling was started, a group of Russian and British scientists discovered the lake believed to be one of the largest fresh water reservoirs on the planet. This lake is among the last unexplored places on Earth. Sealed from the Earth’s atmosphere for millions of years, it may provide vital information about microbial evolution, the past climate of the Earth, and the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet. Russian experts waited several years for international approval of their drilling technology before proceeding. As anticipated, lake water under pressure rushed up the borehole, pushing the drilling fluid up and away, then froze, forming a protective plug that prevented contamination of the lake. In December of the next Antarctic season, 2012—2013, researchers plan to re-drill the frozen sample of subglacial water for analysis.
Russian researchers reach subglacial Lake Vostok in Antarctica
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1. Polar Research Center, Jilin University, Changchun 130026, China