Sunday, February 5, 2012

Silence shrouds Antarctic dig

The Telegraph (Australia): A team of Russian scientists has gone quiet as they race against winter to uncover an ancient Antarctic lake.

The group from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) have been drilling for weeks in an effort to reach isolated Lake Vostok, a vast, dark body of water hidden 4000m below the surface of the continent. Lake Vostok has not been exposed to air in more than 20 million years.

The team's last contact with colleagues in the outside world was six days ago, and scientists from around the globe are unsure of the fate of the mission - and the scientists themselves - as Antarctica's deadly winter draws near.

"When you're outside, it's extremely cold - minus 30, minus 40," microbiologist Dr David A Pearce said. "If you left your eyes open the fluid in them would start to freeze. Your nostrils would start to freeze. The moisture in your mouth would start to freeze."

Dr Pearce heads a team from the British Antarctic Survey on a competing mission, set to plumb the depths of Lake Ellsworth, one of a string of more than 370 lakes beneath Antarctica that may soon see light for the first time for eons. But time is running out for the Russian scientists....

A scene at Bellingshausen, a Russian Antarctic base on King George Island (far from the site for the Lake Vostok dig, I believe), shot by Loranchet, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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