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Russian scientists reach 20-million-year-old lake buried in Antarctic

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Russian scientists reached a 20-million-old gigantic freshwater lake buried under Antarctica Lake. The St. Petersburg Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute said on Wednesday (February 8), its scientists reached the surface of Lake Vostok, the largest of nearly 400 sub-glacial lakes on the continent at a depth of 3,768 meters.

The water, which rushed 30-40 meters up and under pressure following the breach of the ice cover, froze at the lower part of the bore hole. Researchers will now extract the frozen drill sample for its next phase of research to find the possible existence of biological forms in the ancient lake.

Russian astrobiologist Sergei Bulat said, though the sample from the surface may not prove the existence of biological forms in the ancient lake, only a search at the bottom would bring definitive results.

“We cannot rely on this sample alone to claim the existence or non-existence of life in the lake,” said Bulat. “The surface layers may be too cold for any bacteria to survive.” According to the scientist, several robotic probes are being developed in the St. Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics to help researchers explore the bottom layers of the lake during exploration in 2013-14 season.

Russian scientists hope the study of Lake Vostok could reveal new forms of life and show how life evolved before the ice age. It could also help in the search for life under the ice crust on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa.

It took researchers more than 30 years to drill through the surface, which has been sealed off for millions of years.

Scientific teams from Britain and US are also exploring the region. While British researchers hope to retrieve samples from Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica, another sub-glacial lake next year, a US team is seeking to reach the reverfed Whillans Ice Stream. The 250 kilometer long and 50 kilometer wide Lake Vostok, is the largest of nearly 400 known sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica.

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