Lake Ellsworth, Antarctica

25 Aug

The topography of Antarctica is truly fascinating. BEDMAP shows a three dimensional images of subglacial mountain and lakes, a vast panoply. Only a small percentage is visible above the snow/ice level.

With ice penetrating radar surveys, Lake Vostok, a huge body of water was located in the 1990s. It is now known apparently that there are hundreds of lakes under the ice. They have been undisturbed for millions of years.

Now ground- breaking work to investigate Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica is about to reach fruition. In December 2012. Professor Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh leads a team that will use hotwater drilling to access the lake that lies under 3 km of ice.  A probe will be lowered through the drill-hole to obtain specimens from the lake base and the lake water. High definition cameras will record the underside of the ice sheet. Microbiological, chemical and geophysical analyses will be done.

This approach has the advantage that it is a CLEAN approach that leaves a minimal footprint (the access hole will freeze over, leaving, it is anticipated, no residue from the invasion).

Aims include a search for life in extreme conditions — is it true that wherever there is water there is life? Has any creature managed to survive thousands of years in the dark and cold? If not, has the edge of the envelope of life been reached?

Also the sediment may give clues about past climate changes in the lake bed, possibly new forecasts will be made about future climatic changes.

Robert Scott, Edward Wilson and all the scientists on both the Discovery and the Terra Nova expedition would have been thrilled and excited to know that their efforts contributed so significantly to the beginnings of the opening of the doors on these important mysteries.

 

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