Probing Antarctica’s pristine lake
A sterile probe that will work in extreme conditions has been designed and built to drill through overlying ice into an under-ice lake in Antarctica to investigate the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. All equipment must be sterile to ensure the samples are not contaminated and that no contamination is passed into the pristine lake.
The British Camp, Lake Ellsworth
A project to survey an ancient and untouched lake under Antarctica’s ice sheet required engineers at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre to design a sterile probe that would work in extreme conditions.
A lake in Antarctica that is two miles under an ice sheet is where scientists will be looking for signs of life later this year. UK scientists and engineers aim to drill through overlying ice to sample its waters and recover sediment from the lake bed to investigate the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It is one of the biggest UK projects of exploration in recent years, involving teams from 10 of the UK’s top universities, research institutes and manufacturers.
Lake Ellsworth is one of several hundred under-ice lakes in Antarctica. These sub-glacial lakes are made of ice that is kept liquid by the geothermal warmth of the Antarctic bedrock and the pressure of ice above. The lakes have been in existence for around half a million years. Protecting this ancient environment from contamination, and the samples that come from it, is central to the project.
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