I’ve been really fascinated by the news coming out of Antarctica these past couple of weeks as Russian scientists announce progress on their drilling project over the past couple of decades — to drill through four kilometres of compressed ice at the coldest point on earth to breach the hidden and mysterious waters of Lake Vostok.
I read one report which likened the event to landing on the moon back in 1969. That event certainly captured the world’s imagination. I was Chief Sub Editor of the Fiji Times and Herald in Suva at the time and recall spending late nights and very early mornings gathering news reports and pictures for the newspaper. This was well before the sophistication of communication as we know it today. But the crowds of Fijian, East Indian, Chinese and Europeans outside the newspaper office in the early morning waiting for the newspaper to come off the presses is a sight to be remembered. This was before television. (Was there such a time?” my grand daughters ask.)
But back to Lake Vostok. This lake is 160 miles long and 30 miles wide. The presence of Vostok and others on the Antarctic continent were identified by satellite imagery from outer space. The British have a drilling program going at Lake Ellesworth in West Antarctic and the Americans are targeting Lake Whillans near the Ross Ice Shelf. Key in Lake Vostok into an internet search and a lot of really interesting stuff comes up about lakes which have lain buried for millions of years, kept in liquid form by the pressure of the ice from above and heat from the Earth’s core below.
Unlike the Arctic, Antarctica is a land mass and in some places is compressed below sea level by the massive ice sheet more than 10,000 feet above sea level. It’s fascinating to take a peek at what scientists are finding. It’s a cold and isolated place and what happens there, what is found in the south polar region often bypasses mainstream media and consciousness. We hear about global warming, its effect on the ice, on penguins, and how wonderful and pretty icebergs can be.
What will the waters of these hidden lakes contain? We surmise from science that the world may have have at one time been a single land mass (Pangaea), that broke into pieces that slowly drifted into the lands we now know. I have a piece of petrified wood gathered from the Dry Valleys. That tells me there was a forest there once. Geologists have located evidence of coal seams. Again, when and how was Antarctica ever green and contain life? Maybe stuff in the waters and sediments of these lakes will yield a treasure of new information.
One thing the scientists are wary of is any form of pollution in the hidden lake waters from their drilling operations. But that is another subject.
For a good look at the Lake Vostok operation check out this reference and really informative graphic: