First Drill into Antarctic Lake Coming Soon

Scientists have pinpointed the location for the first ever exploration of a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica.

The eventual drill that will delve deep into the Antarctic ice layer could bring about a massive revolution in climate change research and could lead to the discovery of never before seen life forms.

Lake Ellsworth lies approximately 3.4 kilometres (2.1 miles) under the ice of West Antarctica, is approximately 10 kilometres long and is estimated to be tens of metres in depth. The team from Northumbria University, the University of Edinburgh and the British Antarctic Survey who discovered the optimal drill site are setting scientists up for the first ever drill into an Antarctic sub-glacial lake.

Paleoclimatologists believe that sediments on the lake floor could contain historical records of the area and the climate dating back thousands of years. Scientists believe that such information could revolutionize research into global warming for years to come, by providing an unseen insight into what has come before.

On the other hand, microbiologists believe that the lake could be home to species never before seen that have been cut off from other lines of evolution for ages due to their icy enclosure.

The search for the right drilling site had to face up to a lot of obstacles. The optimal drilling site has to avoid possible areas of incoming water that would disturb the sediment, as well as areas of so-called basal freezing — where lake water freezes to the underside of the ice. It also has to avoid any concentrations of trapped gases which could rush up the bore hole to cause a potentially dangerous blowout at the surface.

“The location provides a deep water column for sampling and reduces the risk from possible basal-freezing mechanisms,” said Dr John Woodward, from Northumbria University’s School of Applied Sciences. “It optimises the chances of recovering an undisturbed, continuous sedimentary sequence from the lake floor, and minimises the potential for trapped gases to gain entry to the borehole.”

“This is an eagerly-anticipated result — the final piece of the jigsaw that we need to plan the exploration of Lake Ellsworth,” Dr Andy Smith of the British Antarctic Survey. “That exploration can now go ahead at full speed.”

The drill will take place in the Antarctic summer of 2012-13.

News and Image Source: British Antarctic Survey

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