Scientists Drill 1 Kilometer Beneath Antarctica and Make Surprising Discovery

Scientists have recently drilled into a mysterious subglacial lake in Antarctica. As noted by the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA), it took experts two days to reach the underground lake.

“After four days of troubleshooting components that sustained wear and tear from sitting through two winters on the ice, the Drill Team began drilling the main borehole on the evening of December 23 and reached the lake faster than expected at 10:30 pm on December 26 with a borehole depth of 1084 meters,’ a SALSA statement reads.

Known as Lake Mercer, it measured around 62 square miles and was discovered thanks to satellite images of the region more than ten years ago.

The Subglacial lake is considered a hydraulically active lake located around one kilometer beneath the thick ice sheet of Whillans Ice Plain, a fast-moving region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now, for the first time ever, researchers have successfully managed to drill into the lake, and have revealed they’ve discovered signs of life.

12019 / Pixabay

But not only that, as revealed in a recently published study in the journal Nature, scientists revealed they had discovered the remains of crustaceans and a tardigrade, an animal commonly referred to by experts as a ‘water bear.’

Interestingly, scientists reveal that despite the extreme temperatures and conditions inside the subglacial lake, life could still exist down there.

David Harwood, a micro-paleontologist, member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is part of the expedition — known as SALSA (Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access) told Nature that ‘discovering the animals down there was something totally unexpected.

The underside of the massive ice sheet that has sealed off Lake Mercer for thousands of years.Credit: Bob Zook and John Winans/SALSA Science Team.
The underside of the massive ice sheet that has sealed off Lake Mercer for thousands of years. Image Credit: Bob Zook and John Winans/SALSA Science Team.

How exactly the animals ended up inside the lake, located around 1,000 meters beneath the surface, remains a mystery. However, they theorize that the animals may have inhabited ponds and streams in the Transantarctic Mountains (some 50 kilometers away) and got transported to their current location when weather conditions were much warmer in Antarctica, between 10,000 and 120,000 years ago.

As the climate eventually cooled down, the animals were trapped inside the subglacial lake.

Lake Mercer is just one of 400 lakes that are believed to exist beneath the Antarctic Ice.

Exploring it is of great importance not only to understand our planet better, but the scientific data gathered by experts as they explore the subglacial lake could help us understand how alien life could develop and survive on distant planets and moons across the solar system, and beyond.

Scientists will now perform DNA sequencing from the animal remains they discovered in order to figure out whether the animals were saltwater or freshwater species.

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