Scientists to drill buried Antarctic lake

Posted by Kate Taylor

A team of four British engineers has completed the first stage of an ambitious project to explore an Antarcic lake.

Buried under two miles of ice, Lake Ellsworth may harbor life and could give vital information on the world's ancient climate, says the team.

In temperatures of minus 35°C, the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth 'Advance Party' used a powerful 'tractor-train' to tow nearly 70 tonnes of equipment to the lake. In December, after the long Antarctic winter, a science and engineering team will  collect water and sediments from the buried lake.

After 15 years' planning, Lake Ellsworth will be the first Antarctic subglacial lake to be measured and sampled directly using space-industry standard 'clean technology' to avoid contamination.

Through a bore hole, drilled using high-pressure hot water, the team will lower a titanium probe to measure and sample the water, followed by a corer to extract sediment from the lake.

The team says it's hoped that the expedition could yield vital clues about the evolution of life on Earth and other planets. It will also help scientists predict future sea levels.

"The completion of this stage of the mission is a welcome one – we are now one step closer to finding out if new and unique forms of microbial life could have evolved in this environment. The samples we hope to capture from Lake Ellsworth will be hugely valuable to the scientific community," says principal investigator Professor Martin Siegert from the University of Edinburgh.

"This year we will complete and test both the water sampling probe and the sediment corer. Extracted sediment samples could give us an important insight in to the ancient history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, including past collapse, which would have implications for future sea level rise."

There's more information here.