Russians announce retrieval of first clean ice sample from Lake Vostok

Jan 14, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Credit: NSF

(—Researchers with Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute have announced that they have successfully retrieved a clean ice core sample from Lake Vostok in Antarctica. The sample, taken from a bore hole drilled over two miles through the ice to the lake underneath, is the result of years of effort. Researchers hope to find evidence in the ice of life on Earth as it existed as far back as 20 million years ago.

Lake Vosok, situated near the center of Antarctica, is water lying beneath a sheet of ice over two miles deep – it remains liquid due to geothermal heat underneath. Its existence was discovered in late 1996 and since that time, researchers have been eager to drill down to retrieve . Caution was advised, however, as scientists worried that drilling attempts might cause material from the surface to contaminate the water or samples received. One prior attempt to drill down to the lake by a British team failed leaving the Russians to give it a try. They made it to within 130 meters of the surface of the lake back in 1998, but halted work when scientists around the world expressed concerns about the lack of planning to prevent contamination. Over the years, the Russians worked out various plans to extract a sample without dirtying the lake but it was only recently that they settled on the simplest: Bore down to within just a few meters of the surface, then let the from the lake break through the remaining ice and push up into the where it would freeze almost instantly. To collect a water sample from the lake would then require simply pulling up the core. Unfortunately, when that approach was tried last year, the core sample retrieved showed of contamination by drilling equipment, e.g. oil used as a lubricant.

Wostok-Station (NOAA)

Scientists the world over are hoping this new sample will contain evidence of a previously unknown form of life – a possible relative of some life forms still around today. If that turns out to be the case, a lot of research will go into its examination and study. Also, it might lead to new ideas for exploring other planets that are covered in ice sheets, but might be harboring life underneath.

With this latest extraction, the Russians insist they've retrieved a pure sample, but they won't know for sure until they get it back to their lab and study it – that won't happen though till it grows warm enough in Antarctica for a ship to arrive to carry the sample home in the spring.

Explore further: Earthquake preparations need to start now, expert advises federal officials

Related Stories

Scientists drill two miles down to ancient Lake Vostok

Feb 13, 2012

( -- Russian scientists last week finished penetrating more than two miles through the Antarctic ice sheet to Lake Vostok, a huge freshwater lake that has been buried under the ice for millions ...

Russia 'drills into' Antarctic subglacial lake

Feb 06, 2012

A Russian team has succeeded in drilling through four kilometres (2.5 miles) of ice to the surface of a mythical subglacial Antarctic lake which could hold as yet unknown life forms, reports said Monday.

Recommended for you

Image: Cambodian rivers from orbit

21 hours ago

A flooded landscape in Cambodia between the Mekong River (right) and Tonlé Sap river (left) is pictured by Japan's ALOS satellite. The centre of this image is about 30 km north of the centre of the country's ...

Image: Agricultural fires in Angola, West Africa

May 21, 2015

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image which detected dozens of fires burning in southwestern Africa on May 21, 2015. The location, ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2013
Scientists the world over are hoping this new sample will contain evidence of a previously unknown form of life

That would make a good scenario for another horror movie
5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2013
A few weeks ago, another Phys.Org article informed us that a British expedition had to go back home because they were stuck after drilling 300 m.
Wonder how the Russians managed to overcome the difficulties the British had.

and .
5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2013
Wonder how the Russians managed to overcome the difficulties the British had.

The British simply ran out of fuel, iirc. They miscalculated how much fuel it would take to breach the lake, and ran out. Couldn't resupply and were forced to retreat as winter set in.

In Mother Russia, gas runs out of barrel!!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.