On February 5th of 2012, Russian scientists broke through the Antarctic ice sheet and breached a prehistoric lake. At a depth of over 2 miles(!) beneath ice, the secrets of Lake Vostok remained hidden to all for more than 20 million years. Now, after decades of work, the team has reached their goal – even delivering Prime Minister Putin a flask of this deep-water well – and just in time for winter. Winters in Antarctica can easily see -80°F temperatures. The entire team would be stranded until summer would allow their rescue had they not left when they did.
I’ve been awaiting news of their success for at least a year now. I am not entirely sure what they’ve actually breached at this point. It doesn’t appear that they’ve actually hit liquid water yet. Perhaps they’re waiting until summer before doing that so as not to cause contamination of the site before diving robots are available to enter it. This is the ultimate goal for scientists wherein they’ll be able to test the water’s make-up, identify any living organisms (the real hope), and sample sediments from the prehistoric lake’s bed.
I can’t imagine how it would happen any other way, but it certainly seems that once the water is freed to atmospheric pressure, a geyser will issue forth and refreeze the tube as it rises. I suppose they have something in place to account for this problem, though it’s a valid enough question that it was brought up in earlier reports.
I’m eagerly awaiting results of their discovery as it has merit for thoughts toward other extremophiles on icy moons; Enceladus and Europa. Given anything that might live in such a hostile environment here on Earth, there lies a decent chance of life in similar environments elsewhere in the cosmos.
One article I read – a Russian news source – mentioned that many people believe they may discover a lost Nazi fortress in the area. There was apparently some bravado from the 2nd World War issued by the Third Reich that mentioned a secret bunker at the world’s end – Antarctica. The story sounds like something right out of a Marvel Comic! The thing I don’t think anyone was thinking about is the fact that the continent’s ice sheet moves at such a pace that nothing stays put for long. In 100 years or so, anything sitting at the south pole would have migrated completely off the ice shelf and dropped into the Southern Ocean.