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Buried under the thick ice cap

Published February 11. 2012 09:02AM

What is under the ice shelf of Antarctica? While most of us went about our business the last week, things were tense for scientists at the literal bottom of the world as they waited to hear from a Russian team at the Lake Vostok drilling site where they hoped to drill to the pristine body of water 13,000 feet beneath the ice. The Russian expedition is one of three eager to use space age technology to cleanly obtain core samples and water samples from this arctic landscape which has been encased in over two miles of ice for almost 20 million years.

Scientists have no idea what they will actually find but some have speculated that the samples may lead to the discovery of life forms never before seen on the planet that are entombed in this underground lake.

Even more thrilling for them is a first look and analysis of water that has been preserved for the same amount of time under the ice. They expect to not only find evidence of these long concealed life forms but they also hope to gain a better understanding of the ancient history of Antarctica, the collapse of the ice shelf and other information.

There are actually three teams racing to uncover the mysteries of this well-known underground lake, but it is not the only one in Antarctica. Lake Vostok, while the most famous of the subglacial lakes, is one of 387 such pristine lakes long hidden from the surface by thousands of feet of glacial ice. A team of United States scientists, a team of British scientists and a team of Russian scientists all have expeditions to study this lake.

The Russian scientists saga began over a week ago when their U.S. colleagues lost radio communication with them. The reason for their concern is the harsh winter was due to arrive later in the month which would make their survival extremely difficult as the temperatures at the Vostok station would begin to sink below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the station would need to be winterized. The station would need to be closed by February 7th to give them time to return to the main base before temperatures drop to twice that amount. The record lowest temperature on Earth was recorded at Vostok as -129 Fahrenheit which would be potentially lethal to anyone exposed to it.

Fortunately the missing Russian scientists were able to reestablish contact and notified their team they were successful in drilling down to the lake without contaminating the water in the lake. They were able to do this by stopping the drill just about the water's surface and extracting the kerosene in the shaft used to maintain the blade. By doing so, the pressure from the lake pushed water samples out of the hole where they could be collected without compromising the lake's water. The scientists who reported the contact stated that even though the weather was preparing to turn for the worst, the missing personnel were prepared and could have survived even though it would have been difficult. Fortunately, it appears they will be able to avoid the winter and return in time.

Besides the strong scientific interest in Antarctica, there has also been wild speculation about what lies below the icy surface of this inhospitable clime. Some believe that some higher ranking Nazis escaped toward the end of World War II and established a base in Anarctica. Others believe the ice covers the remnants of a lost civilization which could be the mythical Atlantis. There is speculation of an entire world under the ice cap. None of this has ever been shown to be true and is all probably flights of fancy, however some sources do claim to have found some formations using satellite imagery that could be rings of something or pyramids in the subglacial surface.

We are only beginning to be able to study and understand what is buried under that thick ice cap and speculation as to the secrets contained will probably continue until we learn more. Regardless of the fantasies, the reality is even more exciting as science has the rare opportunity to study and analyze this natural time capsule in order to gain more insights into the world around us.

hile the connection to Antarctica is fanciful at best unless you are a believer that Atlantis is resting at the bottom of the world, enthusiasts were disappointed earlier in the week as Google announced it was re-rendering its Google Earth Oceans map which removed the data artifacts that four years ago excited many web surfers by implying the map uncovered the lost city of Atlantis. Google claimed that the grid work that seemed to be the roads of a sunken city evident in its map of the ocean floor was caused by overlapping datasets. They claimed these overlapping renderings created the grid and by having better data that was contiguous the Google mappers were able to replace the anomaly with a more accurate map of the ocean.

If you would like more information about these Antarctica stories and Atlantis musings you can check the website

Til next time…

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