U.S. drillers reach lake beneath Antarctica

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Arlington, VA, United States (4E) – A team of American scientists have drilled through 2,625 feet thick of ice sheet in western Antarctica to reach a lake beneath the icy continent.

A borehole camera is to take images of the Lake Whillans’ surface before sampling tools and sensors are lowered down to take water samples and see its microbial content, the scientists from the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (Wissard) project said on its website Sunday.

Wissard, which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, started on Jan. 21. The Americans used a hot water drill to bore a hole through solid ice.

A powerful jet of pressurized hot water melted a hole in the ice, according to Frank Rack, a geologic oceanographer of the University of Nebraska and leader of the drill team.

The water is heated to 195 degrees Fahrenheit and cleaned of microorganisms by ultraviolet lamps to prevent contaminating the lake.

Lake Whillans is just one of a few hundred subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Scientists from the U.K. also tried to drill into Lake Ellsworth in December but failed due to technical problems. Russian scientists have drilled into Lake Vostok and are now studying water samples.

Aside from its life forms, geologists and glaciologists want to know the dynamics of the lakes particularly why it fills and drains every five or 10 years as shown by radars.

“We want to find out what causes these cycles. And knowing more about ice dynamics is important to better understand the effects global warming might have on the Antarctic continent,” said Ross Powell of the University of Northern Illinois (UNI), according to Discovery.com.

UNI is one of WISSARD’s 13 principal investigators.

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