News / Europe

Russians Reach Ancient Antarctic Lake

Vostok hidden under ice for more than 15 million years

Russian researchers at the Vostok station in Antarctica after reaching subglacial Lake Vostok. Scientists hold a sign reading "05.02.12, Vostok station, boreshaft 5gr, lake at depth 3769.3 metres."
Russian researchers at the Vostok station in Antarctica after reaching subglacial Lake Vostok. Scientists hold a sign reading "05.02.12, Vostok station, boreshaft 5gr, lake at depth 3769.3 metres."

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

After more than a decade of drilling in Antarctica, Russian scientists have reportedly reached the surface of a giant freshwater lake hidden under nearly four kilometers of ice.



Lake Vostok has not been exposed to light or air in more than 15 million years and scientists believe it could contain life forms that existed before the Ice Age.

Evidence of a giant lake beneath the Antarctic ice has been gathering since the 1970s.  

Suspicions were first aroused after a team of Russians drilled deep into the ice to get a climate-record core sample. According to Montana State University microbiologist John Priscu, a veteran Antarctic researcher, the Russian scientists were puzzled by what their ice cores revealed.

“As they got deeper, though, they hit this funny ice, a different kind of ice that no longer had layers," Priscu says. "It didn’t have climate-record layering in the bottom. So they stopped drilling to find out what the heck they were getting into.”

What they were getting into was the vicinity of Lake Vostok, more precisely, the region at the bottom of the ice sheet above the lake. By 1996, scientists had gathered enough data on the structure of the ice sheet and the terrain beneath it to publish an article in Nature describing the hidden lake at Vostok.

An artist's cross-section of Lake Vostok, the largest known subglacial lake in Antarctica. Liquid water is thought to take thousands of years to pass through the lake, which is the size of North America's Lake Ontario. (Nicolle Rager-Fuller/NSF)

Russia quickly launched a project to drill through the four kilometers of ice and gain access to the lake. That drilling and core sampling continued every year since.

Priscu sampled some of that 400,000 year-old ice core, which, he says, contained colonies of cold-adapted micro-organisms much like those found growing near deep-ocean vents.

“Other ones, based on our DNA data, suggested that [the bacteria] would get their energy from minerals in the water. These organisms actually can mine the minerals in the rocks and then apparently they are producing new carbon to feed organisms that reduce carbon.”

Drilling into Lake Vostok without contaminating it is a complex job. Priscu says the Russians have taken extreme care to avoid introducing surface bacteria or pollutants into the lake’s virgin waters.

“They will put no probes into the lake or any hardware.  What they will do when they penetrate the lake they will back pressure their bore hole and they will let the lake water come up into the bore hole. They will not let any of their borehole fluid go into the lake. So when they penetrate only lake water will come up.”

According to plan, water will rise up through the bore hole and be left to freeze over the Antarctic winter so the scientists can go back next year and analyze it. But that is water just from the lake’s surface.

While the Russians are apparently the first to tap it, teams from the United States and England already have established projects to drill into the ancient Antarctic ice.

Priscu expects that within a decade an international team will explore Lake Vostok’s deepest regions.

“I also predict that once we really start figuring these systems out, we’ll find that they play an important role in biodiversity on our planet, a role in terms of carbon sinks and sources, which is important for the atmosphere.”

Priscu expects today’s discoveries in the Antarctic will inspire a new generation of scientists to unlock the secrets of this vast and still largely unexplored world.

You May Like

In China, Mixed Signals on Ebola Controls

How authorities are monitoring at-risk individuals remains unclear, including whether there are quarantines for Chinese health workers returning from West Africa More

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Electionsi
X
October 31, 2014 4:10 AM
Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid