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The hunt for life below Antarctic ice

In the next few weeks, researchers in Antarctica will drill through 1,100 metres of ice into a lake that has remained sealed for millennia. Here’s what they hope to find.

Reported by Douglas Fox for Nature ANTARCTICA – At a remote camp just 600 kilometres from the South Pole, the race is on to melt 28,000 kilograms of snow. Within the next two weeks, a team of technicians will use that hot water to melt a hole through 1,100 metres of ice, straight down to the bottom of the Antarctic ice sheet. Their quarry is a hidden lake that has been cut off from the rest of the world for thousands of years. The life they expect to find there inhabits one of the most isolated ecosystems on Earth.

The pool of water, known as Subglacial Lake Mercer, covers 160 square kilometres — twice the size of Manhattan — and might be 10–15 metres deep. Despite temperatures that are likely to stay below 0 °C, the lake doesn’t freeze, because of the intense pressure from the ice above. Researchers discovered its ghostly silhouette a little more than a decade ago through satellite observations, but no human has directly observed the lake.

The drillers hope to tap into Mercer sometime around Christmas. Then, a team of researchers from more than a dozen universities will hoist samples of water and mud from its interior. The scientists will also send a skinny, remote-operated vehicle down through the 60-centimetre-wide hole to explore the dark waters with video cameras and grab samples with a claw.

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For more information about Brad Rosenheim, and his groundbreaking expedition visit the following links below. 

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