Russian drilling operations at Lake Vostok, Antarctica, have succeeded in collecting a long-sought core sample of water frozen into the borehole from the glacier-covered, 20 million-year-old lake they cracked into last year.
“The first core of transparent lake ice, two meters long, was obtained on Jan. 10, at a depth of 3,406 meters (11,174.5 feet). Inside it was a vertical channel filled with white bubble-rich ice,” stated the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, part of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, reported Ria Novosti.
In February last year the Russian drilling team cracked the ice over the surface of the lake using a melt drill for the final 40 feet. But no lake water was collected.
An elaborate publicity stunt on Feb. 10, 2012, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ceremoniously received a sample of what was billed as water from Lake Vostok was later explained to be water from the point just before the final push near the surface of the lake.
Indeed no water from the lake was collected at the time. An analysis of the ice frozen on the drill bit before they switched to the melt drill showed, perhaps as expected, no signs of life. They did find elements of drilling oil and lubricants, however.
The water that gushed into the borehole through the crack in the ice, froze in place and remained untouched until now.
“Initially, we saw completely unknown to us ice – an opaque, porous, bright white (ice),” explained Vyacheslav Martianov, the deputy head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, to BSR Russia. “But 20 meters after that we saw transparent ice, with the white ice frozen inside of it.”
By using the lake water as a frozen plug in the borehole, the Russians have managed to tap into what is considered the largest of Antarctica’s known sub-glacial lakes, without, hopefully, contaminating it. Analysis of the ice will tell whether the ice is indeed contamination free and if any organisms from the surface of the lake found themselves frozen in history.