British scientists are due to begin drilling the ice sheet of Antarctica to reach a previously hidden lake. They hope a deep probe of Lake Ellsworth will reveal new forms of life kilometres beneath the ice.
The team is attempting to cut through 3.2 kilometres of ice to the lake which has been cut off from the world for up to 500,000 years.
The 12-man team will melt a 36 centimetre-wide borehole using a specialised hot-water drill.
By pumping 90,000 litres of water through a continuous, 3.5 kilometre hose, the team is hoping to break through to the sub-glacial lake.
Once through the ice, samples will be taken from the sludge on the lake bed, which could have been cut off from Earth’s predominant evolutionary processes for millions of years.
The scientist’s team coordinator Chris Hill told Euronews:
“What we actually find in the lake will be very interesting. We could find any number of orders of microbial life and that will be very interesting in itself. To find out how those microbes are surviving in such an extreme environment.”
The lake bed sediments have the potential to paint a picture of the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in a way never seen before. The microbes that scientists will find could also hold clues as to the nature of the planet’s past climate.
And scientists add that if life can withstand even the deepest, darkest and most isolated conditions for thousands and thousands of years, then it has the ability to exist anywhere – and by that they mean not just here on Earth.