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Life Under the Ice?

A US-led team of explorers are ready to start drilling into one remote Antarctic lake, while Russian scientists are about to analyze samples from another.

By | January 15, 2013

FLICKR, US EMBASSY NEW ZEALANDA team of explorers has arrived at the subglacial Lake Whillans at the edge of the Western Antarctic Ice sheet after a 1,000-kilometer trek from the US-owned research facility McMurdo Station. The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team will this week begin to drill through 800 meters of ice with an environmentally clean hot-water drill, then deploy sampling instruments into the bore hole to sample the water and sediment beneath, which may contain microbial life.

The team will also collect data that may shed light on the role of the 300 or so subglacial lakes and rivers found over the past 20 years in stabilizing or destabilizing the Western Antarctic Ice sheet, which seems to be losing mass at an increasing rate. 

Meanwhile, Russian scientists have successfully retrieved samples from Antarctica’s 20-million-year-old Lake Vostock, which lies buried under almost 4,000 meters of ice. Having drilled to the lake surface in February 2012, the team allowed the pressurized lake water to rise into the borehole and freeze there, avoiding contamination from above. They then collected a 2-meter-long core of “white, bubble-rich ice” last week (January 10), according to Russian’s state-owned news agency Ria Novosti, and will now analyze the sample for evidence of microbial life.

(Hat tip to Nature)

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