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A Northumbria University lecturer is one of a team of scientists on a mission to explore one of the last unchartered corners of the Earth a subglacial lake in Antarctica. Glaciologist Dr John Woodward, together with experts from the British Antarctic Survey and Edinburgh University, will spend five months working in sub zero conditions above Lake Ellsworth a subglacial lake located in West Antarctica buried beneath 3.4 km of ice. The lake represents an extreme, untouched and unknown habitat.

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Glaciologist Dr John Woodward, a Northumbria University lecturer is one of a team of scientists on a mission to explore one of the last unchartered corners of the Earth a subglacial lake in Antarctica.
The team from the British Antarctic Survey and Edinburgh University, will spend five months working in sub zero conditions above Lake Ellsworth - a lake buried beneath 3.4km of ice.
The lake represents an extreme, untouched and unknown habitat.

 Scientists would love to know what is living in these lake environments, and what this might tell us about possible life in extraterrestrial environments such as the frozen moons of Jupiter - Dr John Woodward.

The £600,000 project has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The British Antarctic Survey will be providing the logistic support necessary to conduct the research in one of the most remote areas of Antarctica.
The researchers will spend much of their time trying to identify the optimal site from which to access subglacial lake Ellsworth. Dr Woodward will undertake a seismic survey. The seismic technique uses high explosives to generate a controlled noise source. Sound waves from the explosive shot travel through the ice and are reflected from the ice-water interface (the surface of the lake). Some waves will travel through the water and will then be reflected from the water-bed interface. The echoes that return to the surface are recorded by a series of highly sensitive microphones that are attached to a computer that will allow the depth of the lake to be mapped.
Once the seismic survey has been carried out, the researchers hope to attract more funding to allow them to use a hot-water drill to bore through the ice and access the lake. A slimline robot will then be lowered into the depths, which will carry sensors to detect life and collect sediment samples.

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.

More than 150 subglacial lakes have been identified in Antarctica, cut off from the outside world by thick caps of ice for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. Any life forms will have had to adapt to complete darkness, very few nutrients, crushing water pressures and isolation from the atmosphere.

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Four giant lakes
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Scientists have discovered four giant lakes under the Antarctic ice.
Together the four are as big as Lake Vostok, the biggest body of water so far discovered in Antarctica.
Researchers say the newly found lakes appear to affect how rapidly ice is transported from the interior of the continent to the sea.
Writing in the journal Nature, they say that understanding the interaction of lakes and ice is crucial to forecasting the impacts of climate change.
The four lakes lie under the Recovery ice stream which brings ice from hundreds of kilometres inland into the Weddell Sea.

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Antarctic Rivers
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UK scientists have discovered that Antarctica's buried lakes are connected by a network of rivers that is transporting water far beneath the surface.

It was thought the sub-glacial lakes had been completely sealed for millions of years, enabling unique species to evolve in them.
Writing in the journal Nature, the experts say international plans to drill into the lakes may now have to be reviewed. Any attempts to drill into one body of water risks contaminating others.

"What this paper shows is that not only could you contaminate a lake, you could contaminate the whole drainage system" - Duncan Wingham, University College London, lead author .

The sub-glacial lakes of Antarctica are regarded as "time capsules" of the period when the continent began to freeze over. The presence of the drainage system may change current thinking on the chances of finding microbial life that has evolved "independently".

"We have always thought of sub-glacial lakes as being distinct bodies isolated from each other. For at least some of these lakes, that won't be true but they will still be isolated from the atmosphere" - Professor Martin Siegert, of the University of Bristol, a co-author of the Nature study.

More than 150 Antarctic lakes have been detected so far, but the number could eventually run into thousands.
The latest research was carried out by scientists at the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at UCL, the University of Bristol and University of Cambridge.
They took ultra-precise measurements of a region in East Antarctica - home to some of the oldest, thickest ice on the continent - using radars on the European Space Agency's ERS-2 satellite.
The satellite found synchronous changes in the surface height at several locations hundreds of kilometres apart.

"To find a whole section - 30km by 10km - had dropped vertically was a great surprise. We then found another similar event 300km away, but that bit had increased instead of decreasing. We were then left with the problem of explaining what was going on. Movement of water was the only mechanism conceivable" - Duncan Wingham.

The scientists believe that every so often there are large flows of water from one lake to another along rivers the size of the Thames.

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RE: Lake Vostok
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Russian researchers have already drilled down within about 131 metres of Lake Vostok as they seek to unlock the secrets of the mysterious lake...
They managed to bored down 27 metres towards the lake earlier this year and plan to start again in December.
They say they will break through by 2008.

The drilling will continue. We are not violating any rules. If our activities don’t suit people, what can I say?” - Valery Lukin, head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition

Under the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, all nations can carry out civilian, non-nuclear research on the continent and must share any findings with other countries.


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RE: Lake Ellsworth
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British scientists have been given the go-ahead for a project aimed at dropping a robot probe into a vast, subterranean lake two miles below the Antarctic ice.

The aim is to study the microbes and other life forms found in Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica and to study sediments on its floor. The latter could provide vital information about climate change.

'We have no idea when the West Antarctic ice sheet last melted completely. But by studying these sediments we should be able to work out if West Antarctica was completely ice-free in the recent geological past, a few hundred thousand years ago. Given the rate at which the planet is heating up, we need to know just how vulnerable the West Antarctic ice sheet is.
If it melts completely, sea levels will rise by six metres or more and drown great stretches of coastline round the world.
' - Professor Martin Siegert, of Bristol University.



Lake Ellsworth is buried more than two miles beneath the ice sheet and is one of 145 sub-glacial lakes that have recently been pinpointed on the continent by airborne radar surveys. Scientists now know that heat emanating from Earth's core gently melts the base of the Antarctic ice sheet and this produces vast caverns - many of them dozens of miles in length - that have filled with water.

'In some cases, this water has lain undisturbed for millions of years. The lakes are therefore of incalculable scientific importance - and not just for understanding life on Earth. We now know that Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, is coated with a thick layer of ice that covers a vast ocean and this could, possibly, provide a home to alien life forms. However, if we want to go and look for these, as space engineers are planning, we will first have to learn how to explore ice-covered environments on Earth.' - Professor Martin Siegert, who is leading the Ellsworth project, a multi-disciplinary team from 12 UK universities and research centres.



And that will not be easy. Most of Antarctica's buried lakes are found on the eastern half of the continent, including its biggest - Lake Vostok. This was until recently the favourite candidate for a drilling project, but the logistical problems have proved daunting. The lake is buried under 4km of ice.
Nor is it possible to use standard oil-drilling technology to reach the lake. Kerosene, used as an anti-freeze, would contaminate the pristine water below the ice.
So they aim to use hot-water drills: essentially huge shower heads that spray out water at high temperature and pressure and which would simply melt their way downwards.
'The trouble is that the ice above Lake Vostok is incredibly cold - minus 60 Celsius - and that makes it difficult to melt. So we have picked Lake Ellsworth.' - Professor Martin Siegert

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Lake Vostok
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Russian scientists have said they will resume drilling into Lake Vostok in the Antarctic, to within 100m of the waters that sit below its ice-cap.


Lake Vostok's waters may hold many new species as it is an ecosystem that has been sealed-off from the outside world for millions of years.

Scientists had previously drilled into the ice above the lake but had stopped well short of the water-ice interface.


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