An ancient lake, hidden beneath 1.8 miles of ice in the western Antarctic area, could contain clues about climate change and future changes in sea level, as well as potentially uncovering new forms of life, according to a team of UK-based researchers and scientists.
The British Antarctic Survey mission is set to begin an ambitious scientific mission to collect water and sediment samples from the lake, hoping to yield new data about the evolution of life on Earth.
The British Antarctic Survey mission, together with Durham University and Austrian company UWITEC, have designed and built a percussion-driven sediment corer, which can extract cores up to three meters long ( or about 9.84 feet). The team will prepare for a challenging drilling operation starting in November 2012, during which the members will spend three months living in tents in one of the coldest and windiest places on the planet, in a region called Lake Ellsworth on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where temperatures can fall to -25 degrees centigrade.
From the past 15 years we were planning to discover this hidden world. But now because of technology we have the expertise and equipments to drill the Antarctica's thickest ice and collect samples without contaminating the water, said Martin Siegert, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and the team's principal investigator.
The team expects to find evidence of viruses, bacteria, single-celled microorganisms called archea and complex cell organisms called eukaryotes. These life forms could increase our understanding of how life on Earth began and evolved and help define its limits.
The main purpose of the project is to determine what forms of life that might exist in the cold, pitch-black environment of the buried waters, said David Pearce, science coordinator at the British Antarctic Survey and part of the team leading the search for life in the lake water.
Finding life in a lake that could have been isolated from the rest of the biosphere for up to half a million years will tell us so much about the potential origin of and constraints for life on Earth, added Pearce.
If we find no life, then the finding will be even more significant because it will define limits at which life can no longer exist on the planet, explained Pearce.