Pristine samples from under-ice lake hit paydirt

Ice_Streams_in_Antarctica

Scientists successfully retrieved the first samples from a buried lake in Antarctica today. Initial reports are there’s already some fossil gold in hand:

OAP – Water and sediment samples returned to the surface will be examined for microbes and other signs of life; clues to past climate; and interactions between under-ice water and the overlying ice sheet. Some of the samples will be tested on-site, in a lab set up in a shipping container, and some will be sent back to the United States for further study.

The first traces of mud brought up from the lake floor yielded diatom fossils, microscopic marine life eroded from rocks in West Antarctica, Discover reported.

The U.S. effort was one of three attempts to drill into one of Antarctica’s buried lakes during the southern summer. The others are at Lake Ellsworth and Lake Vostok. Lake Whillans was closest to the surface of the three lakes by more than a mile (2 kilometers). Also, unlike the deeper pair, which may have been isolated for millions of years, Lake Whillans regularly fills and drains with water from subglacial streams.

With the possible exception of the entire universe or some weird distant denizens within, nothing is truly sealed off. Certainly nothing on earth. Even the inner iron core is connected to the land and sky by speedy bosons and less frantic molecules. But those lakes are sequestered and not long ago, in geologic time, Antarctica was a very different place. Short of a massive informal multi-century geological survey called the Industrial Revolution, sub-glacial lakes and streams are the ideal place to quickly find lots of clues about those lost ecosystems. It sounds like that strategy may have already paid off here.

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