After 20 years of drilling, a team of Russian scientists has penetrated Lake Vostok’s ice layers, reaching what is thought to be one of the world’s largest collections of uncontaminated water. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got a “dinosaur drink” from Lake Vostok Friday, according to Fox News. Russia’s Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev gifted Mr. Putin with a sample of water from Lake Vostok. After asking Mr. Trutnev if he took a sip of the water, Mr. Putin posited that “it would have been interesting you know: dinosaurs drank it,” Reuters reports.
Valery Lukin, the director of the Russian Antarctic programme, confirmed the momentous achievement by releasing a statement from the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A.M. Yelagin, Wednesday. In the near future, Russia’s penetration of Lake Vostok’s ice could lead to the discovery of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
The statement, which was obtained by The New York Times, said that the drill penetrated the ice layers and reached the sub-glacial lake’s water at a depth of 12,366 feet. The drilling team broke through the ice on Sunday, February 5th.
Mr. Yelagin was also able assuage any fears that Lake Vostok’s water might have been contaminated by fluids from the drilling process. The chief of the Vostok Research Station said that the drilling fluids were pushed back up the bore hole after the drill came into contact with the water.
James White, a geological sciences professor at the University Colorado, urged the Russian scientists and other Antarctic researchers to be careful with Lake Vostok’s uncontaminated water.
“Lake Vostok is the crown jewel of lakes there,” Mr. White told The Associated Press via telephone. “These are the last frontiers on the planet we are exploring, we really ought to be very careful,” Mr. White added.
Mahlon Kennicutt, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University, is positive that the Russian scientists have penetrated Lake Vostok’s ice layers. Mr. Kennicutt contends that the pressure surge in the bore hole is the perfect sign.
“There’s no other reason you would run into a pressure kick like that unless you’d broken into a seal, which would be the surface of the lake,” said Mr. Kennicutt, according to National Geographic News. “Fifteen years ago we couldn’t imagine the day there would be penetration of one of these lakes,” Mr. Kennicutt added.
It took several days for the Russian scientists to confirm that they had penetrated Lake Vostok’s ice layers. RIA Novosti reported Monday that the sub-glacial lake’s ice layers had been pierced, but Mr. Lukin told Nature Tuesday morning that the event had yet to be confirmed. Before the event could be confirmed, the Russian scientists needed to analyze sensor data the drill.
“Only when I have this can I say we penetrated [Lake Vostok],” Mr. Lukin professed to Nature. “We want to be sure we have really reached the surface of Lake Vostok,” Mr. Lukin said. “As soon as we get it officially confirmed, this information will be disseminated among the international community,” Mr. Lukin added.
The excitement and champagne popping began Monday when RIA Novosti cited a source, with knowledge of the drilling exploration, who said “scientists stopped drilling at the depth of 3,768 meters and reached the surface of the sub-glacial lake.”
The Russian scientists penetrated Lake Vostok’s ice layers just in time for the worst of winter. “Temps are dropping below -40 Celsius and they have only a week or so left before they have to winterize the station,” John Priscu, professor of ecology at Montana State University and the lead researcher on a team with a similar mission, posited to FoxNews.com in an email. “I can only imagine what things must be like at Vostok Station this week,” Mr. Priscu added.
Despite his own research pursuits in the Antarctic, Mr. Priscu was genuinely excited for the Russian scientists who broke through Lake Vostok’s ice layers. “The success of my Russian colleagues proves, from an engineering standpoint, that we can sample an environment beneath 4,000 meters of ice. It also opens the doors for ensuing subglacial science,” Mr. Priscu posited to National Geographic News by email.
Russian scientists can claim that they have pierced the ice layers of one of the world’s largest lakes, not to mention Antarctica’s biggest lake. However, the work of the Russian scientists and the rest of the scientific community is just beginning.
Now that scientists have confirmed that the water beneath Lake Vostok was not contaminated by drilling fluids, researchers will be able to examine water samples for microorganisms. Some scientists believe that the discovery of microorganisms below Lake Vostok could eventually lead to the discovery of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
Scientists believe that the uncontaminated water below Lake Vostok may be similar to the water that is thought to exist below Europa’s thin layer of surface ice. Europa, which is Jupiter’s fourth largest satellite, could also harbor microorganisms.
“The discovery of microorganisms in Lake Vostok may mean that, perhaps, the first meeting with extra-terrestrial life could happen on Europa,” said Vladimir Kotlyakov, director of the Geography Institute at the Russian Academy of Science, to Vzglyad newspaper.