After 16 years of planning the countdown is on for one of the most ambitious scientific missions to Antarctica. In October a 12-man team of British scientists, engineers and support staff will make the 16,000 km journey from the UK to go deep into the heart of the frozen continent to collect samples of water and sediments from an ancient lake buried beneath three kilometers of ice. Their quest is to reveal vital secrets about the Earth's past climate and discover life forms that may live in subglacial Lake Ellsworth on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
For the past three years a team of engineers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have pushed the boundaries of polar technology to design and build a state-of-the-art titanium water-sampling probe and a bespoke sediment corer capable of being lowered down a three kilometer borehole in the ice made by a custom-built hot-water drill. To add to the challenge every piece of technology has to be sterilised to space industry standards to ensure this unexplored lake remains pristine.
After setting up the science camp and preparing all the equipment to start the mission, the team will have just 24 hours to sample the lake before the borehole re-freezes and re-seals the lake. Typical working conditions will be in temperatures a chilly minus 25C and wind speeds averaging 25 knots.
The team of science and engineering experts has been brought together by the mission's Principal Investigator Martin Siegert from the University of Bristol. He says:
"For the first time we are standing at the threshold of making new discoveries about a part of our planet that has never been explored in this way. Finding life in a lake that could have been isolated for up to half a million years is an exciting prospect, and the lake-bed sediments have the potential to paint a picture of the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in a way that we haven't seen befor
|Contact: Heather Martin|
British Antarctic Survey