In Antarctica, a team of scientists has just drilled into the ice up to the surface of a ‘lost’ lake more than 3,200 feet deep. A success that bodes well for a better understanding of the geological, hydrodynamic or even biological processes that could occur in this unfathomable abyss.
It is a real ’lost world,’ an aquatic kingdom concealed from the eyes of the world under more than half a mile of ice... Scientists have managed to penetrate this untouched area of exploration, known as Lake Mercer, a body of subglacial water about 61 square miles in area.
The technical prowess of the researchers came to fruition on December 26th. But it was only three days ago that the SALSA project team, Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access, began drilling operations that allowed them to explore the subglacial interior of Antarctica.
To achieve this, the researchers implemented a particularly sharp drilling technique. Not by its principle, which is a jet of steam emitted by a nozzle gradually piercing the thick layer of ice, but rather by all the precautions taken to ensure the preservation of the purity of the waters of Lake Mercer.
Nearly 500 tonnes of material were brought to the drilling site. On the one hand to build a shelter for scientists and technicians of the mission, but also on the other hand, and above all, to allow for almost perfect disinfection of the drilling device.
All equipment was decontaminated with oxygenated water, otherwise known as hydrogen peroxide. The objective? To avoid any biological pollution of the very isolated environment that is Lake Mercer. Another precaution taken to ensure this? The water from melting ice was stored on site, sterilised with ultraviolet light, then filtered to remove 99.9% of impurities, before being injected into the system.
Through the conduit which is barely wider than the palm of a hand that they patiently drilled, the scientists eventually reached the surface of Lake Mercer just 3,556 feet deep.
The promise of new discoveries
This brand new technical-scientific success has for the moment only resulted in the recovery of some elements from the subglacial lake, such as images on the one hand, but also on the other hand data such as its depth, its temperature, or the conductivity of its water.
The next step is drilling this time to the bottom of the lake, to analyse the sediment. Scientists plan to bring to the surface a 20 foot long core, which should enable them to better understand the erosive, hydrodynamic and biological processes that could occur in this unfathomable abyss. Lake Mercer, a real lost world that could soon deliver some of its secrets, yet so well guarded.
Check out the video above to see the incredible images for yourself!