The St. Petersburg Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute on Wednesday officially confirmed startling reports that Russian scientists bored into an untouched Antarctic sub-glacial lake, Vostok, that has been sealed for millions of years.
“An event that has been keeping the world scientific community on tenterhooks for the last few months occurred on February 5 at 8.25 p.m. Moscow time…specialists with the glaciological and drilling unit of the 57th Russian Antarctic expedition through deep ice borehole 5G penetrated the relict waters of sub-glacial Vostok,” the Russian institute quoted Alexander Yelagin, chief of Russia’s Vostok scientific station located on the ice sheet above the ancient lake, as saying.
On Monday, a scientific source who requested to remain anonymous told RIA Novosti that Russians reached the surface of the sub-glacial lake and stopped drilling at the depth of 3,768 meters. Several scientists then cast doubt on the news.
The reported event was not the actual penetration into the lake’s waters, the research institute explained in a press release, saying that at this depth the drill bit only made contact with the lake’s water lens.
Russian researchers had to pierce through almost two meters of ice to finally reach water. “Drilling operations resumed and the drill bit made contact with the sub-glacial’s actual water body at the depth of 3,769.2 meters.”
Initially, The Russian expedition had been working with a drill that uses kerosene as antifreeze. After several scientists and environmental groups claimed that the pristine lake might be polluted by those chemicals the team switched to more environmentally friendly Freon.
The bore only slightly touched the lake's surface. At that moment, sensors detected a sharp increase in pressure. Water started rushing up from the lake; it covered the chemicals and quickly froze, sealing out the toxic chemicals, researchers said.
“About 1.5 cubic meters of liquid [lubricants and antifreeze] rushed out of the boreshaft… and later it was pumped into barrels on the surface.”
Hours before the historical penetration, Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yury Trutnev and head of Russia’s Meteorological service Rosgidromet, Alexander Frolov, arrived at Russia’s Vostok station.
Explorers hope Lake Vostok, which is the largest of Antarctica's buried network of icebound lakes and also one of the largest lakes in the world, could reveal new forms of life and show how life evolved before the ice age.
The discovery of the hidden lakes of Antarctica in the 1990s sparked much enthusiasm among scientists all over the world. Some think the ice cap above and at the edges have created a hydrostatic seal with the surface that has prevented lake water from escaping or anything else from getting inside.