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Lake Vostok Drilling A Success, Contamination A Concern

February 10, 2012

Last night on BBC Radio a new story was aired that I find quite interesting, given the many years that the project to drill into Lake Vostok has been on the books.  As noted in the report, and debated for years, is the potential for contamination of a body of water that might have been in one place for  for thousands if not millions of years.

Russian scientists are reporting success in their quest to drill into Lake Vostok, a huge body of liquid water buried under the Antarctic ice.

It is the first time such a breakthrough has been made into one of the more than 300 sub-glacial lakes known to exist on the White Continent.

Researchers believe Vostok can give them some fresh insights into the frozen history of Antarctica.

They also hope to find microbial lifeforms that are new to science.

“This fills my soul with joy,” said Valery Lukin, from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg, which has been overseeing the project,

“This will give us the possibility to biologically evaluate the evolution of living organisms… because those organisms spent a long time without contact with the atmosphere, without sunlight,” he was quoted as saying in a translation of national media reports by BBC Monitoring.

More than 300 such bodies of water have now been identified across Antarctica. They are kept liquid by geothermal heat and pressure, and are part of a vast and dynamic hydrological network at play under the ice sheet.

Some of the lakes are connected, and will exchange water. But some may be completely cut off, in which case their water may have been resident in one place for thousands if not millions of years. Russian researchers will try to establish just how isolated Lake Vostok has been. If it has been sealed then micro-organisms new to science are very likely to have evolved in the lake.

Nonetheless, there will be concerns about introducing contamination, and there have been criticisms of the methods used by the Vostok drilling team.

2 Comments
  1. February 11, 2012 11:59 AM

    The explorers were not aware of germs or that it was not smart to put dirty fingers into deep wounds…..so……

  2. bob permalink
    February 11, 2012 2:15 AM

    Imagine if past explorers had wet their bed over “contamination” and eco-concerns. We’d all still be living in caves. What a joke.

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