Scientists hope to find new life forms beneath buried Antarctic lake from outside influence for several hundred thousand years
A team of four British engineers recently returned from a 10-day trip to a desolate, windswept plain in Antarctica, setting the stage for a project that could uncover previously unknown life that has been cut off from the world for millennia.
Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey are seeking to drill through the continent’s thick covering of ice to a giant, hidden lake, cut off since before modern humans first evolved, which may house life forms invisible to human eyes. They could be unlike anything scientists have seen before.
“We expect to find microorganisms,” said Martin Siegert, the principal investigator on the project, “because there’s water and where there’s water on planet Earth, there’s life.”
The lake, Lake Ellsworth, is 7 miles (12 kilometers) long, a mile (3 km) wide, and 500 feet (150 meters) deep. Buried beneath nearly 2 miles (3 km) of ice, the lake has likely been cut off from any outside influence for several hundred thousand years, said Siegert, a glaciologist and professor at the University of Edinburgh.
Any microbes living in the lake may have evolved and adapted in strange ways, since they live in total darkness, and have likely been left to their own evolutionary devices for thousands of years. If they are anything like Antarctica’s only native wildlife, they could be strange indeed.