Under-ice lake survey

Posted: 10/13/2011 in all marine news

Hydro International – 

A British engineering team is heading off to Antarctica for the first stage of a scientific mission to collect water and sediment samples from a lake buried beneath three kilometres of solid ice.

Transporting nearly 70 tonnes of equipment, the ‘advance party’ will journey almost 16,000km from the UK to subglacial Lake Ellsworth on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). It is one of the most remote and hostile environments on Earth, with temperatures of –25°C.

Their task is to prepare the way for the ‘deep-field’ research mission that will take place one year later. In October 2012, a team of ten scientists and engineers will use hot-water drilling technology to make a three kilometre bore hole through the ice.

They will then lower a titanium probe to measure and sample the water followed by a corer to extract sediment from the lake. Lake Ellsworth is likely to be the first of Antarctica’s 387 known subglacial lakes to be measured and sampled directly through the design and manufacture of space-industry standard ‘clean technology’.

For years scientists have speculated that new and unique forms of microbial life could have evolved in this cold, pitch black and isolated environment. Sediments on the lake bed are likely to reveal vital clues about the history of life in the lake and the ancient history of the WAIS, including past collapse.

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