After 20 Years, Russian Drill Nears 14-Million-Year-Old Lake Vostok

grand-prismatic-thermophile

A team of Russian researchers is close to breaching into Lake Vostok, a prehistoric lake that’s been trapped deep beneath the Antarctic surface for the last 14 million years. Vostok is the largest sub-glacial web of more than 200 lakes, which are hidden 2.5 miles (4 km) beneath the surface.

Some of these lakes were formed when Antarctica was much warmer and still connected to Australia. The lakes are supposed to be rich in oxygen, making them oligotrophic, including some elements in much higher quantities than in typical freshwater lakes. The high gas concentration might be due to the enormous weight and pressure of the continental ice cap.

nasa-lake-vostok-location-antarctica

If there is still life in Vostok, it will be some kind of extremophile, life forms that have adapted to survive in extreme environments. Adaptations would include the ability to withstand high pressure, constant cold, low nutrient input, high oxygen concentration and the absence of sunlight.

It is thought that the conditions in Vostok are similar to the ones found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus. Finding life in such conditions would strengthen the hope of extrasolar life, and life in extremely harsh conditions.

Antarctica’s summer is going to end soon and the researchers are running out of time. Temperatures will drop as low as -112˚F (-80˚C), grounding planes and trapping the team if they don’t act quickly. The team already missed their chance last year. If they miss it again this year, they’ll have to try again next year. Russian engineers are planning to venture into the lake itself, assisted by robots.

[via Wired UK, images by Wikipedia]

2 Comments on "After 20 Years, Russian Drill Nears 14-Million-Year-Old Lake Vostok"

  1. Madanagopal.V.C. | December 16, 2012 at 6:29 am | Reply

    Twenty years of bore drilling for 4km depth could find only the old sedimentation. If life exists still there by adaptation it would be interesting and why not we consider life coming from comets in cosmos in their icy rocks devoid of oxygen? Thank You.

  2. Why the frick-frack is there a picture of the Grand Prismatic from Yellowstone National Park in this article. It doesn’t even pertain to the subject at hand. So, yeah. Just thought I would point that out.

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