Frozen Antarctic lakes and deep sea trenches are the new frontiers

“To boldly go where no man has gone before…”

In Antarctica a Russian team of scientists and engineers finally broke through to the ancient Lake Vostok, a sub-ice lake believed to hold stagnant water that could be millions of years old. After more than twenty years of stop-start drilling through the 3.7 km thick ice sheet covering Lake Vostok, drilling once again came to a halt.The inhospitable environment of the Antarctic forced the Russian team to postpone sampling and analyses until December 2012 when summer once again make working conditions possible.

In the meantime, the rest of the world will have to hold its breath wondering if the drilling operations may have contaminated the lake, or if the lake will prove to be sterile as some have suggested.

There are apparently several similar projects planned in some of the 350 sub-glacial lakes discovered in Antarctica. You can read more about the Lake Vostok-project on BBC-news.

Meanwhile in a totally different environment other scientists are turning their gaze to the deepest parts of our oceans, the deep-sea trenches, once believed to be too dark and cold to be able to host any life forms. But these trenches, which can be as deep as 11 km, are now known to be home to many animals and some that really surprise the scientists, e.g. the supergiant “shrimp” found 7 km down in the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand.

Space, and the search for extraterrestrial life, used to be the final frontier, but it is now challenged by remote and virtually unexplored areas on our own planet. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that we are turning our gaze inwards instead of outwards?

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3 thoughts on “Frozen Antarctic lakes and deep sea trenches are the new frontiers

  1. Amazing to think we still know so little about our Earth. Humans may have conquered the land but the oceans are very much an unknown. Are the Russians letting the borehole freeze back over until next season’s sampling?

    Trenches and cold seeps are synonymous right? Trenches Vs vents is an interesting biological topic. That amphipod is freakish. When did their lineage evolve, begin to inhabit these extreme environments? All these organisms share a lack of pigmentation. Bizarre, fascinating.

  2. Hej there,
    Not sure whether they are letting it freeze back or how the drilling operation itself works.

    Treches and cold seeps are not the same thing. Basically oceanic trenches forms the deepest parts of the oceans. They are formed where the oceanic crust is subducted underneath another “lighter” crustal plate, basically it is a collison zone between two crustal plates where one is heavier than the other. E.g. outside Japan where the Pacific Plate (oceanic crust) is subducted underneath the “Asian” Plate (continental crust). When the oceanic crust is pulled down a topographic valley is formed on the ocean floor. Once the oceanic crust reaches a certain depth in the Earth’s mantle it begins to melt and the formed magma rises upwards forming a volcanic arc bordering the oceanic trench.

    A cold seep is an area on the ocean floor where gases stored in the ocean floor sediments, e.g. methane or hydrogen-sulfide, seeps out. They usually support an endemic fauna consisting of species adapted to that particular environment.

    As far as I know the oldest fossil amphipod is from the Lower Carboniferous (359-318 million years ago), so yes, they have been around for a long time.

    I think they lack pigmentation because there is no light down there, so they really don’t need to look good 😉

    Cheers

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