Under the Ice: Life

Tonight’s Science Lecture in McMurdo was by John Priscu, famous first for his work in the Dry Valleys, and now working on an international advisory panel for Lake Vostok. Priscu gave a substantial overview and informative update on the situation at Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake (two and a half miles below the ice of Antarctica) which is as large as Lake Ontario. The Russians “found” Lake Vostok while drilling a deep ice core sample, but their drill core only went down as far as the unique layer of “refrozen” water at the top of the lake. They did not enter the liquid lake itself. The lake contains liquid water with highly-pressured cells of frozen gas and — Priscu’s work suggests — life. The Russians are drilling again, right now, out at Vostok. Their plan is to remove another 50 meters of ice this year, another 50 m in another year, and in 2007 they want to remove the final 30 m of ice and penetrate the lake body. This is highly controversial for a number of reasons. The whole story can be read online in a variety of articles; here are just a few links:

Does Life Exist in Antarctic Lake Buried Under Miles of Ice?
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/11/1115_041115_antarctic_lakes.html

Unlocking the Screts of Lake Vostok
http://www.antarcticconnection.com/antarctic/news/2004/080504-vostok.shtml

Miles Below Antarctic Ice, a Freshwater Lake May Harbor Ancient Life
http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/news/story3_2_01.html

BBC: The Lost World of Lake Vostok
http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/vostok.shtml

Ice Station Vostok
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/vostok_pr.html

My favorite quote comes from the Wired magazine article:

At a recent conference, it took three hours to cover all the facts known about Vostok – but a full day to run through the list of unanswered questions.

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