Lake Vostok has never encountered humans. Its been undisturbed for 15 million years, and is completely unknown. It’s a subglacial lake about 4,000 metres beneath the ice sheet in Antarctica. It is in Antarctica, at Vostok, which also has the world's coldest reported temperature, so it's not been easy to get at to say the least.
Although some people think there are some real risks of contamination of this pristine environment, Russian scientists have been drilling 24 hours a day in shifts all summer to try to reach it before the weather means they have to leave in early February .
No-one actually knows what is waiting for them there, so the world holds it breath. It has been isolated from the world by 4 km of ice cap. This ice may have sealed the lake and made it an ecosystem that is completely independent of anything else.
So the Russian scientists are likely to find life forms never seen before
The subglacial lake was only discovered in 1996 after satellite imagery confirmed its existence.The subglacial lake is one of the largest lakes in the world, so the excitement at Vostok is high. It is about the size of Lake Ontario.
Untouched for some 15 million years, there was an attempt to unlock the secrets of the lake in 1998, and that attempt got to within 130 metres of the lake but was halted because of the concerns about contamination and pollution of the lake . They now say that these concerns have now been overcome.
A final evaluation of the project was approved in November 2010 by the Antarctic Treaty's Environmental Protection Committee and they got the green light to proceed. The idea was that they would not drill into the lake but go down until a sensor on the drill detects free water. Then they would withdraw the drill, take a sample from the lake through changes in pressue and the hole would be left to refreeze.
Interviewed by the BBC ,Dr Ekaikin said "Up until 3 km down, drilling is usually relatively easy - it has been done in Greenland and here in Antarctica. But after 3 km and as we near the bottom [of the ice sheet], the ice temperature gets very close to the ice melting point, and all sorts of problems begin."
That is why for the past few weeks, the team had been advancing at a snail's pace - about 1.6m a day.
Dr Ekaikin added that having analysed the ice cores obtained so far, the scientists have already discovered some bacteria that are likely to be living at the bottom of the lake, where the water is warmer because of the heat coming from the Earth.
The Russian scientists on this mission are hoping the technology will not fail them and they will be able to reach the waters before the season ends on 6 February-very soon.
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