British Researchers Look at Lake Ellsworth Under Antarctic Ice For Unknown Life Forms and More

A British team of researchers will be exploring under the Antarctic in a year’s time (December 2012) trying to look at the history of the region and the possibility of the existence of some other form of life. The region of interest is Lake Ellsworth. This mission is expected to find some unknown forms of life and also give hints about the history of the place and what role it can play in the climate of the world in future.

Tents of earlier researchers (Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium)

The Mission Strategy

The strategy is ambitious. The team aims to melt their way through 3km of solid ice that has never thawed in the last 150,000 years at least! They will use hot water at 970C to melt their way through. Given that the ice is way below freezing temperature (00C) and the water is at nearly the boiling point, the burrow should be a clean hole all the way through. The team will then lower 5 m long probes and use several flasks to collect water samples from the buried lake up to the surface. That is not all; they also plan to take up sediment samples from the floor of the lake. All of this will have to be done in a limited amount of time 24 hours estimate experts since the borehole will constantly keep narrowing down.

Map for the Ellsworth region (Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium)

Lake Ellsworth

Lake Ellsworth is a wonder of Nature. It is located about 3 km below the Antarctic ice sheet and covers an area of about 29 km2 (10 km long and 3 kilometers wide), with a depth of 150 m approx. Untouched for 150,000 years (or maybe even a million) it is almost certain that the subglacial lake will contain life-forms (ancient bacterial forms, most likely) that will be absolutely new to humans. The water in the lake is kept in a liquid state due to the high pressure of the ice-layers above it and the heat from geothermal sources located near the place.  Lake Ellsworth is just one of 360 subglacial lakes, the largest being Lake Vostok, which will be explored by a Russian Team soon.

Looking into the past to predict the future

The mission will hope to look into the past response of ice layers to climate changes and this will provide valuable clues to the response of the Antarctic region to rising temperatures. Remember the Antarctic region contains enough ice on land to raise sea-levels world-wide by 4-5m.

The secrets in the sediments shall be uncovered.

Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.