The first samples from the waters of Vostok
Russian delegation retrieves first ice cores from buried Antarctic lake
A two-meter-long ice column is the first example of the famous Vostok Lake in Antarctica, a large body of freshwater that has been buried under nearly four kilometers of ice for millions of years.
The completion of the controversial feat was announced by the Russian mission in Antarctica, which has been trying for years to reach the lake water in the hope of discovering exotic life forms that are evolving independently of the rest of the planet. Astrobiologists even believe that the microbes that may live in the lake would give an idea of whether there could be life in the subterranean oceans on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
The largest “hidden” lake
Of the 370 freshwater lakes found in recent years under the Antarctic ice sheet, Lake Vostok is by far the largest, measuring 15,690 kilometers. The first indications of its existence came from British radar in the 1970s.
After a decade of efforts, the Russian mission in Antarctica reached the surface of the lake in early February 2012. However, scientists from other countries had expressed concern about the possible contamination of the lake with drilling fluids and microbes from the surface. Such an infection, they warned, would be irreversible and would automatically call into question any future research into the chemistry and biology of the lake.
To avoid this, the Russians adjusted the pressure inside the well so that the lake water would start to rise into the well. This means that water samples can be collected without the instruments having to enter the lake itself.
Samples of the ice just above the surface of the lake were solemnly handed over to Russian President Vladimir Putin in early 2012.
“Freshly frozen” sample
The team from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute was then forced to leave the Vostok station during the “Antarctic” winter, but returned this year to collect the first real sample of the lake. The water, which had already frozen in the well, was pulled out as an ice cube on January 10, the team told RIA Novosti.
The success of the Russians is now likely to upset their British counterparts, who this year failed to reach the water of another buried lake, Lake Elsworth. Other experts, however, may argue that the lake samples are contaminated.
The United States, meanwhile, is preparing to begin drilling on Lake Willans in January or February.
The discovery of living organisms that survive isolated under ice for thousands or millions of years would raise astrobiologists’ hopes of finding life in other icy parts of the Solar System: the subterranean oceans believed to be hidden on Jupiter satellites such as Europe. and on Saturn moons such as Egelados.
Source: The Step Science link