Sunday, 30 December 2012

Lake Ellsworth scientists down tools

The team of British scientists trying to drill down to Lake Ellsworth in Antarctica have decided to down tools for the season. The decision to quit came after technological problems and a fuel shortage, but principal investigator Martin Siegert said they would return:

Lake Ellsworth lies below more than 3km of ice and has been sealed off for tens - probably hundreds - of thousands of years. For that reason it is a time capsule. The scientists are hoping the sediments on the bottom of the Lake will reveal clues about early forms of microbial life and about how the climate has changed since then.

But just getting down to the lake is a feat of engineering. Scientists are using a novel type of drill which blasts the ice with hot water. The team spent the best part of a week shovelling snow into artificial reservoirs - a little like large paddling pools - from where it will be melted in a furnace and pumped to the coal face, or in this case, the ice face.

When the drill head reaches the edge of the lake, a specially designed probe will drop down into the Lake and take samples of the sediment within. It is absolutely critical that the probe and all the other equipment is completely sterile since any residue from the surface would contaminate the samples.

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