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?