Undiscovered life forms may lurk beneath ancient Antarctic lake

Russian scientists have successfully drilled through approximately 2.5 miles of ice to reach the surface of an ancient sub-glacial Antarctic lake.

Dubbed Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica could potentially host numerous forms of unclassified microbiological life forms that have been sealed inside the body of water for the past 20 million years.

Indeed, some researchers believe the ice cap – which took decades to drill through – effectively created a hydrostatic seal that prevented lake water from escaping, or anything else from getting inside.

Others hypothesize that Lake Vostok could provide a hint of what conditions may potentially be like in similar extreme conditions, such as on Mars or Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. 

If life exists in the icy depths of Vostok, it would likely be classified as an “extremophile” which was forced to adapt to harsh conditions and extreme environments. Meaning, the organism would have to be capable of withstanding high pressure, frigid temperatures, high oxygen concentration and a prolonged absence of sunlight.

“There is…a strong interest from biologists to study the forms of life that could exist in these extreme conditions which have been separated from the rest of the world environment for several million years,” Valerie Massson-Delmotte of the French Atomic Energy Commission told the AFP.

Meanwhile, Sergei Lesenkov, spokesman for the Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute, confirmed that Vostok, which formed over the course of 400,000 years, offered the possibility of a “fundamental scientific development,” as subsequent analysis is likely to help researchers understand climate change.

“Because the lower layer was formed 400,000 years ago, from the composition of the gas it is possible to judge the gas composition in the atmosphere 400,000 years ago and during the time that has passed since the formation of the lake,” he explained. 

“From there, it is possible to identify and forecast certain climatic changes in the future. This is very important.”