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Feb 06 2012

Race to Antarctica’s hidden lake

Ice cores drilled at Vostok. Vostok Station is seen in the background. Image courtesy of the Wiki, click for more info on Lake Vostok

I took a few days off from, well, everything. In hope that my shoulder would heal up a bit  — it has been quite sore following a routine injury almost two weeks ago.  I can report it has improved a tad, many thanks to those who humored my prior complaints, and I look forward to a more active blogging schedule and especially a semblance of life without constant pain. Couldn’t a merciful Creator have come up with a better system than intractable pain?

Meanwhile, science marches on, far to the south, where teams of cryogeologists are racing to reach a lake buried underneath kilometers of ancient Antarctic ice. After years of speculation we may soon know what scientific secrets, if any, lay preserved for millions of years below:

(BBC) — Lake Vostok, which is about the same size as Lake Ontario, is buried beneath nearly 4km of ice in the middle of the East Antarctic ice sheet. The lake itself is about the same age as the ice that covers it – 14 million years old. The lake water is thought to be younger – tens or hundreds of thousands of years old – because water may flow between different sub-glacial lakes.

It is estimated the water is replaced about every 13,000 years through a complex interaction of ice, liquid water, geology, and creeping glaciers. Could life persevere in this sterile, black environment? What would it survive on, and how diverse could it be? The answer to these questions have implications for life throughout the cryosphere and on distant planets, comets, and asteroids from our solar system to the ends of the universe.

That may sound hyperbolic. But consider, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan are just a few of the diverse objects in our solar system suspected of harboring potentially enormous reservoirs of liquid water beneath their icy shells. If so, worlds with subterranean oceans would then out number those with surface water — i.e., earth — many times over in our own neighborhood. It seems reasonable the same pattern of small, icy worldlets would be replicated in other solar systems through the cosmos, and because of Kepler and ground based research we now know that virtually all stars will come replete with planets, or at least proto-planetary debris. If life can develop and evolve in such places, the potential biome, the sheer volume in which living things could exist in this universe is increased by orders of magnitude.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    The Lorax

    My first thought reading the headline was, “Ah, that’s neat.” After a moment, I thought, “… wait a sec, this could prove very valuable for searching for life on Europa!”

    At which point I read the remainder of your post and realized you came to the exact same conclusion.

    I guess I’ll have to follow this!

  2. 2
    jolo5309

    Finally science will back up Lovecraft with evidence, soon there will be Shoggoth’s roaming the earth

  3. 3
    BinJabreel

    I love any scientific news item that, without being changed at all, is the perfect story kicker for a horror film.

  4. 4
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    There’s all kind of horror film potential here. Ed Wood would have been quite excited, assuming he knew what Antarctica was.

  5. 5
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I would guess that there is life down there. IIRC, a substantial fraction of planetary biomass consists of bacteria in deep rock and water.

    I hope the steps scientists have take to avoid contamination of Vostok are good enough.

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