BOZEMAN, Mont., Jan. 28 (UPI) -- A U.S. research team reported Monday they had reached a massive lake beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet by melting holes through half a mile of ice.
Researchers with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project said they collected water and sediment from the lake, samples that could answer questions about the region, one of Earth's final frontiers.
"We're very proud of this accomplishment, which is due to a huge effort by many people and organizations," project manager Robert Edwards of Montana State University wrote in an email from McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
After melting through the ice, the researchers used specialized tools to collect samples without contaminating the environment or the samples, and also surveyed the lake floor with video.
It marked the first time clean samples had been successfully retrieved from a subglacial lake in Antarctica, researchers said.
"The analysis of these samples and data, together with the results from a planned field season next year at nearby sites, will allow WISSARD scientists to directly address many key questions regarding the nature of the subglacial aquatic environment under the Whillans Ice Plain, on the margin of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet," Roberts said.
Lake Whillans is part of a vast subglacial aquatic system that could harbor never-before-seen life that may offer lessons about how life can survive without light and at temperatures near the freezing point of water, the researchers said.