Russian drill approaching long-buried lake

Feb. 2, 2012 at 3:54 PM

MOSCOW, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Russian researchers say their drilling project is close to breaching a prehistoric lake trapped deep beneath Antarctica for the last 14 million years.

The 20-year-project is about to reach Lake Vostok, the largest in a sub-glacial web of more than 200 lakes hidden beneath 2 1/2 miles of Antarctic ice, WiredUK reported Thursday.

The lakes are rich in oxygen with levels 50 times higher than in a typical freshwater lake, believed to be the result of the enormous weight and pressure of the continental ice cap.

The conditions in Lake Vostok are thought to be similar to the conditions on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, believed to possess a massive saltwater reservoir beneath its icy surface.

Finding life in the dark, inhospitable depths of Vostok would strengthen the case for life in the outer solar system, researchers said.

Russian engineers said if they are successful in breaching the lake, they plan to send a swimming robot into the lake in the Antarctic summer of 2012 into 2013 to collect water samples and sediments from the bottom.

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