Tag Archives: Lake Vostok

A new study outlines the problems British researchers had in their 2012 attempt to drill down into a buried Antarctic lake.

A new study outlines the problems British researchers had in their 2012 attempt to drill down into a buried Antarctic lake.

The project had been under development for ten years, and yet:

According to the paper, problems started when the boiler that was intended to melt large quantities of snow to provide hot water for the drill failed to work properly because of short-circuiting in its control panel. More severe problems followed. The two parallel drills — one to drill the main borehole to reach the lake, and one to create a reservoir cavity to recirculate drilling water — ran too slowly. Other failures, including of components designed to ensure vertical drilling, exacerbated the problems.

“The drilling was essentially undertaken blindly,” says Siegert. Probably because one or both holes were not drilled vertically, the cavity failed to link with the main borehole. Water also leaked into the cavity drill and froze the hose in the drill hole. Attempts to remove the hose failed, so it had to be cut. At that point, and with not enough fuel left to reach the lake, Siegert gave up.

Seems to me that these problems — some very basic engineering design errors — are a good example of some basic incompetence. If I was providing financial backing to this project I would probably demand that a lot of people be fired before I would give them anymore money.

The report also has this interesting detail which confirms the doubts about the Russian drilling effort:

In 2012, Russian scientists broke into Lake Vostok, by far the largest of Antarctica’s hidden lakes, using a kerosene-fuelled drill. But their samples are spoiled with drill fluid and the bacteria they contain are probably contaminant species.

The Russians now say that they have not found any previously unknown life forms in the sample from Lake Vostok.

The uncertainty of science: The Russians now say that they have not found any previously unknown life forms in the sample from Lake Vostok.

Sergei Bulat of the genetics laboratory at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics had said Thursday that samples obtained from the underground Lake Vostok in May 2012 contained a bacteria bearing no resemblance to existing types. But the head of the genetics laboratory at the same institute said on Saturday that the strange life forms were in fact nothing but contaminants.

It appears that the earlier announcement was either premature, or inappropriate.

The first analysis of the water from Lake Vostok, buried deep under the Antarctic icecap, has shown no evidence of life.

The first analysis of the water from Lake Vostok, buried deep under the Antarctic icecap, has shown no evidence of life.

Bulat and his colleagues counted the microbes present in the ice sample and checked their genetic makeup to figure out the phylotypes. They counted fewer than 10 microbes/ml — about the same magnitude they would expect to find in the background in their clean room. And three of the four phylotypes they identified matched contaminants from the drilling oil, with the fourth unknown but also most likely from the lubricant.

The scientists note that this is a preliminary result. Further drilling for new deeper samples will take place in 2013.

The Russians have confirmed that their scientists have successfully drilled into Lake Vostok in Antartica.

The Russians have confirmed that their scientists have successfully drilled into Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Still no results, but this is not surprising, as these scientists will need time to analyze their data.

Update: More details from Science:

On Saturday, the drill had encountered water at about 3766 meters depth, but the team determined that it was a water lens sitting above the surface of the lake rather than the lake itself. The team collected water samples from the lens, and then kept drilling until reaching the lake surface itself. As expected, the pressurized water of the lake rose about 30 to 40 meters through the borehole and froze, plugging the borehole; the team will return next fall to retrieve the plug and examine it for signs of life.

Unconfirmed reports in the Russian press today claim that the drilling team in Antarctica has successfully reached Lake Vostok more than two miles under the icecap.

Unconfirmed reports in the Russian press today claimed that the drilling team in Antarctica has successfully reached Lake Vostok, more than two miles under the icecap.

No results yet. And since the story above spends more time talking about old silly stories about a hidden NAZI hideout in Antarctica than it does the Russian science effort there it should be taken with a grain of salt.

For the last five days there has been no contact with the Russian scientists drilling down more than two miles to Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Updated and bumped: Six days now, and no word.

Fact meets science fiction: For the last five days there has been no contact with the Russian scientists drilling down more than two miles to Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

The team 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 13,000 ft. below the ice sheet’s surface. The lake hasn’t been exposed to air in more than 20 million years.

Priscu said there was no way to get in touch with the team — and the already cold weather is set to plunge, as Antarctica’s summer season ends and winter sets in. “Temps are dropping below -40 Celsius [-40 degrees Fahrenheit] and they have only a week or so left before they have to winterize the station,” he said. “I can only imagine what things must be like at Vostok Station this week.”

Drilling in Antarctica

Drilling down to Lake Vostok has resumed in Antarctica.

This week, a Russian team drilling into Lake Vostok in the center of the Antarctic continent is likely to break through the ice to water. It will be the first time that a subglacial lake has been breached. These modern-day explorers hope to discover whether Vostok, which at 5000 km 3 is the third largest lake on the planet, is teeming with hidden, cold-loving life that could have evolved separately from the rest of the world for hundreds of thousands of years….

After drilling 3720 meters last February, time ran out for the team and the project was stymied just 29.5 meters from its destination as winter set in. Over the summer, they modified their drill bits and now the team is back at work with plenty of time to spare. They had left the large hole filled with antifreeze, so it was ready and waiting for them. It will remain open for years to come, Priscu says, potentially allowing other teams to sample the waters in the future.