Tag Archives: antarctic

Mystery swirls around life found in Antarctic lake

Mystery swirls around life found in Antarctic lake

Published March 11, 2013


  • lake vostok cross section.jpg

    An artist’s cross-section of Lake Vostok, the largest known subglacial lake in Antarctica. Liquid water is thought to take thousands of years to pass through the lake, which is the size of North America’s Lake Ontario. (Nicolle Rager-Fuller / NSF)

  • Lake Vostok

    NASA photo of Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

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    Russia’s Vostok Station, in a photograph taken during the 2000 to 2001 field season. (Josh Landis, National Science Foundation.)

  • Russian team reaches Lake Vostok.jpg

    Feb. 6, 2012: Russian researchers at the Vostok station in Antarctica pose for a picture after reaching subglacial lake Vostok. Scientists hold the sign reading “05.02.12, Vostok station, boreshaft 5gr, lake at depth 3769.3 meters.” (AP Photo/Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute Press Service)

MOSCOW –  A Russian scientist over the weekend dismissed the claims of his colleagues that water pulled from a lake buried for millions of years beneath Antarctica contained a strange new form of microbial life.
But on Monday, those colleagues insisted that the bacterium they have discovered doesn’t fall into any known categories.

The tiny creature in question came from a sample of water pulled by a team of Russian scientists from lake Vostok in February, 2012, after more than two decades of drilling, a major achievement hailed by scientists around the world. Vostok likes buried beneath Antarctica and hasn’t been exposed to air or light in millions of years. One goal of the dig was to see whether some strange creatures lurked in that darkness.

‘We can’t say that a previously-unknown bacteria was found.’

– Eukaryote genetics laboratory head Vladimir Korolyov 

Such a life form could lead to insights as to what forms life might take on other planets, as well as adding to our knowledge of the varied shapes organisms take here on Earth. On Thursday, Sergei Bulat, a researcher at the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, claimed victory.

“After excluding all known contaminants … we discovered bacterial DNA that does not match any known species listed in global databanks. We call it unidentified and ‘unclassified’ life,” Bulat said, according to a story on Russian news wire Ria Novosti.

But on Saturday, Eukaryote genetics laboratory head Vladimir Korolyov told the Interfax news agency that they did not find any life forms — just contaminants that remained from the drilling process.

“We found certain specimen, although not many, but all of them belonged to contaminants (microorganisms from the bore-hole kerosene, human bodies or the lab). There was one strain of bacteria which we did not find in drilling liquid, but the bacteria could in principal use kerosene as an energy source,” Korolyov said.

“That is why we can’t say that a previously-unknown bacteria was found,” he added.

Still, Bulat and his colleague Valery Lukin insisted to the Associated Press that the bacterium has no relation to any of the existing types, though extensive research of the microbe that was sealed under the ice for millions of years will be necessary to prove the find and determine the bacterium’s characteristics.

Bulat and Lukin said that the small size of the initial sample and its heavy contamination made it difficult to conduct more extensive research. They voiced hope that the new samples of clean frozen water that are to arrive in St. Petersburg this spring will make it possible to “confirm the find and, perhaps, discover new previously unknown forms of microbial life.”

“Deepwater devices designed at our institute will be used next year for taking pure water with pure samplers,” they said.

A U.S. team that recently touched the surface of Lake Whillans, a shallower sub-glacial body of water west of the South Pole, also found microbes. The scientists are yet to determine what forms of bacteria they found.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/11/russia-microbe-water-samples-antarctic-lake-vostok/#ixzz2REr9yo4V

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Antarctic Search for Life Ends

Search for life in buried Antarctic lake called off

By Becky Oskin

Published December 27, 2012


  • British-camp-deep-field.jpg

    The Union Jack flies over a field camp at Lake Ellsworth. In the background are the Ellsworth Mountains, the highest range in Antarctica. (Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

After fighting with the Antarctic ice for 20 hours through Christmas Eve, a British Antarctic Survey team has reluctantly called off its mission to retrieve water samples from an ancient subglacial lake.

The decision to halt drilling through the ice down toward Lake Ellsworth came after the team failed to connect the project’s main and secondary boreholes, Martin Siegert, the lead investigator for the project, said on the project’s blog.

Lake Ellsworth lies under 2 miles of ice and has been sealed off from the outside world for up to 1 million years. Scientists with the survey have been engaged in a 16-year attempt to drill down and take water samples from the lake. They say that if microbes and other forms of life are living in the frigid water, away from sunlight, those life forms may help researchers better understand the origins of life on Earth and the possible forms life could take on other planets.

The scientists were trying to connect the boreholes via a cavity located 300 meters below the ice surface. The cavity recirculates water from the main borehole and would have equalized pressure had the drill penetrated Lake Ellsworth.

Running low on supplies

‘This is, of course, hugely frustrating for us.’

– Martin Siegert, the lead investigator for the project

The camp has been on the ice since Nov. 22, and drilling started on Dec. 13, using a specially designed hot water drill. The effort to establish the connection took so much hot water and fuel that the scientists must now return to the United Kingdom and regroup for next year. [Extreme Living: Scientists at the End of the Earth]

“For reasons that are yet to be determined, the team could not establish a link between the two boreholes at 300 meters depth despite trying for over 20 hours,” wrote Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol. “During this process, hot water seeped into the porous surface layers of ice and was lost. The team attempted to replenish this water loss by digging and melting more snow, but their efforts could not compensate. The additional time taken to attempt to establish the cavity link significantly depleted the fuel stocks to such a level as to render the remaining operation unviable. Reluctantly the team had no option but to discontinue the program for this season.

“This is, of course, hugely frustrating for us, but we have learned a lot this year,” Siegert said. “By the end the equipment was working well, and much of it has now been fully field tested. A full report on the field season will be compiled when the engineers and program manager return to United Kingdom.”

Drilling in extreme conditions

The harshness of the Antarctic environment and the complete darkness of winter there mean that the team can be at the site only during the comparatively mild months of austral spring and summer, from November through January.

This was not the first snag in the project. A circuit used in the main boiler that supplies hot water to the drill burned out twice earlier this month, forcing the team to await resupply.

At the time, Siegert noted that such difficulties are not unusual when working in Antarctica. “It’s a very hostile environment; it’s very difficult to do things smoothly,” he said on the project’s blog.

The drill would have crunched through the ice to the fresh lake water, then sent 24 titanium canisters through the borehole to take water samples. When the drill first started up, the team had to shovel snow in shifts for three days and three nights to melt enough for the needed 15,850 gallons of water, according to the project’s blog.

Race to find life

The British group is one of several teams racing to recover water samples from lakes trapped beneath the Antarctic ice.

A group of Russian scientists is drilling down into the waters of Lake Vostok, the largest of Antarctica’s buried lakes. The team reached the lake’s waters during the last drilling season, on Feb. 5, but the few microbes it found in the retrieved samples were all contaminants from the drilling apparatus.

However, another group of scientists has found a thriving community of microbes in Lake Vida, another buried Antarctic lake that is thought to have been isolated from the rest of the world for about 2,800 years.

In early 2013 an American team is planning to drill to hidden lakes in West Antarctica.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/12/27/mission-to-drill-into-buried-antarctic-lake-called-off/?intcmp=trending#ixzz2GNst0c7n

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