Sunday, January 22, 2012

Antarctic Science: Drilling to Discovery

Last week, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) returned from a trip to the Antarctic, to help set the stage for drilling into the remote Lake Ellsworth.  This is no minor feat.  The 7 mile long, one mile wide, 500 foot deep lake is buried under nearly 2 miles of ice!
Graphic from Wired Science

How are they going to do it?  In November of this year, the team from the BAS will be using hot water, which remains hot due to geothermal heat that comes from inside the earth.  This hot water drill will spray for three continuous days and create a hole just over a foot wide (36cm).  The water is sprayed at 2,000 psi and about 190 degrees F (90C).  Due to the extremely low temperatures at the lake, the diameter of the hole is expected to reduce its diameter by .6cm per hour, as water refreezes.  This leaves scientists with 24 hours from when they finish drilling, to conduct experiments and take samples.

This exploration is very exciting, considering the lake's total isolation.  It will be interesting to observe  anything that may be alive, as all living things in the lake will have been left to their own evolutionary devices for many thousands of years, with virtually no light from which to draw the energy on which most earthly lifeforms rely.


Nikky C said...

Very, very interesting post !

Allison said...

Can't wait to hear all about their findings!!!