Effort to drill to ice-covered lake halted

Dec. 17, 2012 at 5:33 PM
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LONDON, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Technical problems have temporarily halted a British attempt to search for life in an ancient lake beneath the antarctic ice-sheet, project officials say.

They said work was stopped by "a serious problem" with the main boiler used to heat water to 190 degrees Fahrenheit to power a drill intended to melt and blast its way through two-miles of ice to reach Lake Ellsworth, the BBC reported Monday.

Drilling intended to reach the lake sealed below the glacial ice and retrieve samples of water and sediment to search for life in the lake was halted Saturday when a key circuit on the boiler controlling the primary burner failed, the scientists said.

"The good news is that we found the fault relatively early on in our deployment system and so we have quite a lot of fuel that is left remaining," project chief scientists Martin Seigert of the British Antarctic Survey said. "If we didn't have that of course we wouldn't be able to continue any further."

A replacement component is on its way and should reach the site -- where temperatures can drop to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit -- in a few days, researchers said.

"We're working very hard to make sure things are right here," Seigert said. "It's not the end of the field season by any means and with our suppliers in the United Kingdom and the expertise we have on site we're hopeful to restart drilling in a few days' time."

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