Russians about to drill into 14,000,000 year old frozen lake in Antarctica
For 14 million years, Antarctica's vast Lake Vostok has remained tantalisingly sealed off from the rest of the world, hidden under 4 kilometres of ice. What unique forms of life might have evolved in the hidden depths?
After years of speculation we are about to find out, as a Russian drill nears the lake. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, the body set up to preserve the continent, has approved the comprehensive environmental evaluation carried out to ensure the reservoir is not polluted. Researchers from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg expect to reach the water in late January.
The AARI's Valery Lukin says they have devised a clever method for sampling the lake without contaminating it. "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 Russians really did a good job in giving answers to all the fears raised that their actions would contaminate this unexplored environment," says Manfred Reinke, head of the ATS.