Untouched by light for over 20 million years, Lake Vostok–Antarctica’s biggest subglacial lake–has sparked my interest since it was discovered in the 1990s. Now after two decades of drilling down through more than two miles of ice, Russian scientists say they have entered.
This is one of the current research projects I’m extremely excited about. Lake Vostok is part of a network of over 300 subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Despite their depth, they remain liquid due to geothermal heat and pressure. And since microbes have been found in icy and snowy conditions throughout the continent (including deep in the Vostok borehole), everyone involved is hopeful for what researchers may find in down there.
The trouble is, exploring Vostok is not that simple. We know it has high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen so there is the potential of explosively “de-gassing” the lake. There’s also concern over contamination due to bacteria and drilling fluids on the way in.
But the big news: Today according to the BBC, the scientists are reporting success in reaching Vostok.
This work is the culmination of over 50 years of research in in the harshest conditions in the world. And that’s why things get even more interesting… Conditions in these Antarctic lakes may be comparable to liquid water bodies anticipated to be under the surfaces of icy moons in the outer Solar System such as Europa and Enceladus. So life in Vostok may hint at the possibility of life off of this planet.
I’ll be following this story closely..