February 9th, 2012
Econintersect: Russian scientists have reached a vast buried lake on Antarctica named Lake Vostok. It has taken more than 20 years of drilling to reach the body of water with a surface area similar to that of lake Ontario. The lake has been sealed off from the rest of the world by the polar ice cap for more than 20 million years. It is expected that the body of water will yield data about life forms that were existant at that time. Don’t expect any live dinosaur eggs or anything like that, however. Those giant reptiles became extinct about 45 million years before the ice cap encased Lake Vostok. Click on picture for larger image with extensive caption.
This effort is considered to be important because it is a precursor to exploration for water and life on ice-crusted moons of Jupiter and Saturn or under Mars' polar ice caps. The project has been under the direction of AARI (Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute).
From R&D Magazine:
"It's like exploring another planet, except this one is ours," Columbia University glaciologist Robin Bell told The Associated Press by email.
"There is no other place on Earth that has been in isolation for more than 20 million years," said Lev Savatyugin, a researcher with the AARI. "It's a meeting with the unknown."
Savatyugin said scientists hope to find primeval bacteria that could expand the human knowledge of the origins of life.
"We need to see what we have here before we send missions to ice-crusted moons, like Jupiter's moon Europa," he said.
Lake Vostok is about 2.4 miles beneath the surface according to the R&D article. It is not specified whether that depth is measured from the surface of the ice cap or from the surface of the underlying earth. If it is assumed that the reference is the surface of the ice cap the question of whether the lake is on terra firma surface or subterranean (like an aquifer) is still not defined. The average depth of the Antarctic continental ice cap is about 1.23 miles and the maximum thickness is just under 3 miles (2.96 miles). At 2.4 miles depth the lake would be under one of the thicker regions of ice if it is actually on the land surface.
- Russian scientists reach lake under Antarctica (Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press, in R&D Magazine, 8 February 2012)
- Thickness of the Antarctic Ice Cap (hypertextbook.com, May 2000)