Some 3,500 feet beneath Antarctica’s thick ice layers is a mysterious ancient lake that may be home to unknown life forms.
We don’t really know what’s located down there. But to find out, a group of scientists spent two days drilling the ice using a high-pressure hot water drill. The lake is believed to be twice the size of Manhattan.
Now, scientists are planning to lower a robotic vehicle into the lake, obtain samples of the lake’s temperature and contents, and find out whether or not there’s life down there.
“We don’t know what we’ll find,” explained John Priscu, chief scientist for Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA), speaking to Nature News.
“That’s what makes it so much fun.”
The Mercer Subglacial Lake is a hydraulically active lake located more than 1000m beneath the Whillans Ice Plain, a fast-moving part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It is known as the subglacial Lake Mercer, measures nearly 62 square miles.
The lake, which was discovered some ten years ago thanks to satellite images, has never been explored.
It happens to be one of the 400 lakes beneath the thick layers of Antarctica’s Ice, and scientists say that there could be life down there that has never before been seen.
Al Gagnon (left) and SALSA Marine Techs Michael Tepper-Rasmussen and Jack Greenberg (ctr and right) test the @WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) Gravity Corer that will be used to collect 10-ft and 20-ft sediment cores from Mercer Subglacial Lake. #nsfsalsa #Antarctica pic.twitter.com/L12t3Jlxfs
— Salsa Antarctica (@SalsaAntarctica) December 30, 2018
Finding life in the subglacial lake is a huge deal because if we were to find it, it could raise hopes that similar life forms could exist deep inside Mars or even inside the ice-covered moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn.
“After four days of troubleshooting components that sustained wear and tear from sitting through two winters on 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,” scientists explained in a statement.
In 2013, scientists drilled into a nearby, smaller subglacial lake and found it was teeming with microbes.
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