This post originally appeared at GlobalPostRussian scientists preparing to explore the “most alien lake on Earth,” Lake Vostok, have reportedly not been in touch with American colleagues in over five days.
Vostok, buried over two miles — or 13,000 feet — beneath the great Antarctic ice sheet, is one of the world’s largest lakes. However, it hasn’t been exposed to air in more than 20 million years, Fox News reported.
The team from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) have been drilling for weeks to reach the isolated, subglacial water, part of a network of more than 200 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, according to the Washington Post.
Some of the lakes existed in warmer times, when the continent was connected to Australia.
Vostok is thought to harbor conditions similar to those of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and the discovery of life in the lake’s inky depths would significantly strengthen the prospect of discovering life on either of these icy bodies.
However, the lake is “characterised by extremes, as geothermal heat from the Earth’s interior warms the lake’s bottom keeping it in a liquid state.
Thousands of yards of crushing ice also insulate Vostok from the coldest surface temperatures on Earth, “while infusing it with oxygen at concentrations 50 times higher than is typical of freshwater lakes on the planet’s surface,” the website said.
However, because there is no light, any nutrients can only exist in small quantities.
Still, the scientists were “enormously excited about what life-forms might be found there,” the Washington Post reported.
Their main concern was contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, “and the potentially explosive ‘de-gassing’ of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen.”
Meanwhile, Dr. John Priscu, professor of Ecology at Montana State University, told FoxNews.com via email that he had no way to contact the team and the already cold weather was set to plunge, as Antarctica’s summer season was ending.
“Temps are dropping below [-40 degrees Fahrenheit] and they have only a week or so left before they have to winterize the station,” he told Fox. “I can only imagine what things must be like at Vostok Station this week.”
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