Lake Vostok: An untouched, unaltered,


pristine new world, why should we drill it?


ENVS 232


Due: Oct. 17, 2003



Russia is planning on drilling a 35 million year old lake in the middle of the Antarctica. This lake, Lake Vostok, is 670 meters deep or roughly 2198 feet deep and each liter or water contains approximately 2.5 liters of compressed air (Space Daily, Aug. 2003), now why is this, a good idea? This lake could contain new information on some of the blank spots in earth history. The information that is able to be collected from this lake could result in exponential growth in the interplanetary programs at NASA. These discoveries could also lead to new research in the evolutionary fields of the Earth.


Lake Vostok was discovered in 1996 after decades’ worth of seismic studies, radar surveys and satellite imaging and, underneath two miles of solid ice. Named after Vostok Station in Antarctica and being 30 by 140 miles large and over 3000 feet deep Lake Vostok is considered to be on of the largest lakes in the world, and is comparable to Lake Ontario. The water inside the lake has been hermetically sealed from air and light for up to the last 35 million years (Columbia University, 2003). Lake Vostok also contains the oldest water in the world, as said by Dr. Robin Bell of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory,” Lake Vostok is absolutely devoid of interference. The youngest water in it is 400,000 years old. It doesn’t know anything of human beings, fossil fuels, or plastics. It is a window into life forms and climates of primordial eras.” To more generalize the studies being done on Lake Vostok, this is the closest comparison to Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, it also closely compares to the icecaps on Mars.


The bottom of the lake it is laying on a bed of sediment 229 feet thick. Some geologists believe there to be geothermal vents at the bottom of the lake that could give off enough heat and minerals to sustain life forms, similarly to those on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (Columbia University, 2003).


Research teams in 2003 tested samples of ice from 3,200 meters below Vostok Station, they found diverse colonies of microbes. Scientists say this is significant because the lake has been isolated from the usual sources of atmospheric-derived energy, such as photosynthesis, for millions of years (NewScientist, Sept. 2003). Scientists believe ice is a good environment for primitive bacteria. The bacteria need less food because it’s cold, and its metabolism is slowed down, somewhat like a hibernating bear’s. Another finding was that DNA extracted from the microbes present in the team’s Lake Vostok sample indicted the presence of only a few subgroups of known bacteria coupled with low overall microbial diversity (NASA, Dec. 1999).


Recently in September an ice core shipped from Antarctica yielded its first results. The tests from the 3200 meter core dates back to at least 750,000, making it the oldest continuous core ever retrieved (NewScientist, Sept. 2003). Gases and particle trapped in the layers of an ice core provide information about the Earth’s climate and atmosphere from 750,000 years ago. Oxygen and Hydrogen isotopes reveal the temperature when the ice formed, for example, while high carbon dioxide and methane level indicate periods of global warming (NewScientist, Sept. 2003).


Lake Vostok has a wealth of untapped information about the Earth’s Previous History. It may contain a totally different array of plant and animal life than that of anything found on earth today. The scientists working at the station now, are skeptical of drilling into the lake itself. They are having difficulty devising a method of drilling down into the lake without contaminating such an untouched specimen as it may be.


‘Since the 1996 discovery of a liquid lake, sealed for millions of years beneath two miles of solid ice scientists have speculated about the novel life forms existing within. Located in the Antarctic, Lake Vostok is a pristine, ancient global environment that has sparked an international effort to develop exploratory methods without introducing modern contaminants. The potential is monumental for gained knowledge on microbial evolution, the discovery of new organisms and enzymes with potential value to society, and the ability to correlate data with that of other plants under