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Missing scientists mystery deepens in frozen Antarctica

A 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 surface of the icy continent. Lake Vostok hasn't been exposed to air in more than 20 million years. The team's last contact with colleagues in the unfrozen world was six long days ago, and scientists from around the globe are unsure of the fate of the mission -- and the scientists themselves -- as Antarctica's killing winter draws near.
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With only about 50m left to drill, time is running out for the Russian scientists hoping to drill into Vostok - the world's most enigmatic lake.
Vostok is a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica, hidden some 4,000m beneath the ice sheet.
With the Antarctic summer almost over, temperatures will soon begin to plummet; they can go as low as -80C.
Scientists will leave the remote base on 6 February, when conditions are still mild enough for a plane to land.

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Mysteries of Lake Vostok on brink of discovery

For 14 million years, Antarctica's vast Lake Vostok has remained tantalisingly sealed off from the rest of the world, hidden under 4 kilometres of ice. What unique forms of life might have evolved in the hidden depths?
After years of speculation we are about to find out, as a Russian drill nears the lake. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, the body set up to preserve the continent, has approved the comprehensive environmental evaluation carried out to ensure the reservoir is not polluted. Researchers from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg expect to reach the water in late January.

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Antarctic Lakes
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Map Characterises Active Lakes Below Antarctic Ice
Lakes in Antarctica, concealed under miles of ice, require scientists to come up with creative ways to identify and analyse these hidden features. Now, researchers using space-based lasers on a NASA satellite have created the most comprehensive inventory of lakes that actively drain or fill under Antarctica's ice. They have revealed a continental plumbing system that is more dynamic than scientists thought.

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Lake Ellsworth
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Latitude, 79.00 S; Longitude, 90.50 W

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Exploration of lake hidden beneath Antarcticas ice sheet begins 17 January 2008
A Northumbria University academic is part of a four-man science team led by the British Antarctic Surveys (BAS) which has begun exploring an ancient lake hidden deep beneath Antarcticas ice sheet. The lake - the size of Lake Windermere - could yield vital clues to life on Earth, climate change and future sea-level rise.

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An Edinburgh scientist's study of a 15 million-year-old lake buried under the ice of Antarctica could yield clues on climate change and the origins of life.
Edinburgh University researcher Neil Ross is part of a four-man team camped on an Antarctic ice sheet.
The group, which also includes members of the British Antarctic Survey, are to explore an ancient subglacial lake about the size of Loch Katrine.
Lake Ellsworth, in West Antarctica, is buried under 3.2kms of ice.

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A Russian drilling rig has penetrated through more than two miles of Antarctic ice and is within about 70 meters of a huge subglacial lake that may harbour microbial colonies that are unlike anything ever seen on Earth. It's an exciting time for some scientists, and a matter of concern to others.

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Researchers from the University of Delaware and the University of California at Riverside have thawed ice estimated to be at least a million years old from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden more than two miles beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica.
The scientists will now examine the eons-old water for microorganisms, and then through novel genomic techniques, try to figure out how these tiny, living time capsules survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold and without food and energy from the sun.

This ice was once water in the lake that refroze onto the bottom of the ice sheet. We have no direct samples of the lake itself, only this indirect sampling of the refrozen ice above it because drilling into the lake without taking extensive precautions could lead to the lake's contamination. The borehole made to collect the ice is filled with a mixture of jet fuel, kerosene, and CFCs to keep it from closing.  Since the lake has not had direct contact with the surface world for at least 15 million years, this would be a contamination of one of the most pristine environments on Earth - Craig Cary, professor of marine biosciences at University of Delaware.

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There is competition to be the first team to explore a subglacial lake. A team from Italy would like to explore Lake Concordia and a team from Russia plans to extract water from Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake identified. It is vitally important to identify suitable drill sites, and then to plan to conduct the access experiments in an environmentally friendly way so as not to risk contaminating such pristine and isolated environments - Dr John Woodward.

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