All Eyes on Antarctic Drillers at Scott Expedition Centennial

from Science Magazine

by Sara Reardon on 18 January 2012, 10:58 AM

Along with all the festivities surrounding the anniversary of explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912, Antarctic researchers are at the edge of their seats waiting for news that will merit another celebration. The centennial coincides with an expected new landmark: This week, a Russian team drilling into Lake Vostok in the center of the Antarctic continent is likely to break through the ice to water. It will be the first time that a subglacial lake has been breached. These modern-day explorers hope to discover whether Vostok, which at 5000 km 3 is the third largest lake on the planet, is teeming with hidden, cold-loving life that could have evolved separately from the rest of the world for hundreds of thousands of years.

Microbiologist John Priscu of Montana State University in Bozeman, who was one of the original planners of the Vostok mission, has been getting regular updates from the Russian team. As of 13 January, they had reached a depth of 3737.5 meters, about 15 meters away from liquid water. With three teams drilling around the clock and making progress at an average of 2 meters per day, Priscu says they’re on track to break through within the week. “This is an epic event. I really wish them luck,” he says. “I wish I was out there with them.”  . . . read complete report

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