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Lake Vostok Reached 156

First time accepted submitter Cyberax writes "After 30 years of drilling and weeks of media attention the Antarctic underground lake Vostok has been reached by Russian scientists (translated article). Deep drilling in the vicinity of Vostok Station in Antarctica began in the 1970s, when the existence of the reservoir was not yet known. Scientists are beginning paleoclimatic studies and further exploration of the lake will continue in 2013-2014."
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Lake Vostok Reached

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:48AM (#38941605)

    As far as I know they have gone to extreme lengths to avoid contamination of the water. I know they stopped just before reaching the water to let the hole freeze behind them for one thing.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:09AM (#38941815)

    Nope. The lake had almost been reached in 1998 but drilling was stopped to ensure that there would be no contamination. Several years were spent to devise a good solution for the problem of contamination. So the drilling has been resumed only in 2005 when the international community decided that it's safe enough.

    They're using a well filled with kerosene and freon to keep bacterial contamination away. Also, they're using sterilized parts without grease to minimize places where bacteria could hide.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:11AM (#38941829)

    That was a result of mis-translation. The team is in constant communication but there were no official news releases.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:11AM (#38941837)

    Was there ever any compromise on their drilling procedure?

    My understanding was that the Russians were using a method that was likely to cause contamination, despite pleas by western agencies for them to either a) hold off until better tech was developed or b) funding was established to allow them to use (donated) already-developed tech from the west that would be less contaminating?

    I'd guess since this is happening roughly according to their original schedule, the answer is "no" which would be tragic.

    According to the Google translation of the article the drilling was put on hold while the technology was developed at the St. Petersburg Institute. Western nations approved the Russian proposals after that at a 2003 meeting.

    So to answer you, the answer is "yes" which is not tragic.

  • Re:Melt (Score:5, Informative)

    by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:16AM (#38941881) Homepage

    13,100 feet to the lake.

    Been digging since 1974. That's 344 feet a year, or a foot per day. Hell, *I* could have dug quicker than that!

    Or maybe they just had lots of problems, costs, setbacks, etc. associated with a 13,000 foot-long drill through a substance that nobody has ever drilled 13,000 down through?

    It's also in the middle of the Antarctic, just about, and almost 900 miles from the Scott-Amundsen base at the South Pole. It's where the coldest temperature on earth has been measured, a whopping -128F (-89C). I'd love to see anyone dig a foot *that* day! :)

  • Re:Melt (Score:5, Informative)

    by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @11:41AM (#38942159) Homepage

    How do you keep a hole 13,100 ft deep melted when the average temperature in summer is -30C (-22F), and in winter -65C (-85F)?
    The warmest it ever gets is about -12C (10F) - that's a record by the way, the warmest ever measured at Vostok station.

    It's not exactly a resort, you know:

    The warmest recorded temperature at Vostok is -12.2 C (10.0 F), which occurred on 11 January 2002.[10]
    The coldest month was August 1987 with a mean temperature of -75.4 C (-103.7 F) and the warmest month was December 1989 with mean of -28 C (-18 F).[9]
    In addition to the extremely cold temperatures, other factors make Vostok one of the most difficult places on Earth for human habitation:
    * An almost complete lack of moisture in the air.
    * An average windspeed of 5 m/s (18 km/h) (11 mph), sometimes rising to as high as 27 m/s (97 km/h)(60 mph).
    * An acute lack of oxygen because of its high altitude at 3,488 meters (11,444 ft).
    * A higher ionization of the air.
    * A polar night that lasts approximately 130 days, from mid April to late August,[13] including 80 continuous days of civil polar night (i.e. too dark to read, during which the Sun is over 6 degrees below the horizon.)

    (source wikipedia [])

  • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @01:10PM (#38943343) Homepage

    The goal here is not to see any living organisms there as a portal to the past. It is to see any organisms who have manged to survive in an airless, water-filled lake buried under 3 miles of ice for millions of years. It is fairly likely that, if there are any living organisms there, they're going to have evolved in some pretty interesting ways.

  • Re:Melt (Score:3, Informative)

    by sackbut ( 1922510 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @01:32PM (#38943667)
    They were using kerosene originally to keep it from freezing. I do not believe the ice temperature is as cold as the ambient air either. Snow is a decent insulator. Ice maybe not so much though. The permafrost in the Arctic does not extend down 13000 feet (although it is not pure water). There must be some radiant heat from the earth. Generally temperatures increase 3 degrees C for every 100 meters deep.
  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday February 06, 2012 @02:25PM (#38944275) Journal

    The 1982 classic John Carpenter movie The Thing [].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:13PM (#38945697)

    a) the method was tested and shown to not contaminate the water, that's why drilling was allowed to proceed
    b) they'll probably extract kerns of ice after freezing.

    Russian news site [] says:

    The lake might be absolutely sterile. At this moment, drilling passed 173 meters through the ice formed from the lake water. But examining lake kerns has shown no more than 2-3 cells per milliliter, and even those cells could have gotten into samples while transported or in the lab

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas