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British scientists prepare to drill into ancient Antarctic lake

Scientists will drill three kilometers below Antarctica's Lake Ellsworth to collect samples of ancient water
lake vostok antarcticaEnlarge
A less ancient Antarctic lake forms from melting snow near Cape Folger on the Budd Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory on January 11, 2008. (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

British scientists are preparing to drill into an ancient lake that's been trapped under Antarctic ice for thousands of years, according to a press release from the British Antarctic Survey. 

The 12-person team plans to depart for the Frozen North in October, where they'll drill three kilometers (about two miles) beneath the ice to collect samples of exceptionally pristine water.

Why all this trouble to drill into a buried, icy lake? Clues to what the climate was like on earth thousands of years ago are likely waiting to be found in sediment trapped in this very, very old water. This gives us clues into our own origins, and how Earth got to be the way it is today. 

Further, there might even be some hardy microbial forms of life down there, the scientists say - which would have developed in profound isolation from just about everything else, giving scientists clues into how evolution works. 

Read more: Lake Ellsworth, Antarctica 

And how exactly do you drill below 3 kilometers of ice, anyway? You use a hot water drill, which uses a boiler to melt ice and provide water to power the tool. Pressurized water is then funneled through a hose, creating the borehole. 

Once the drill reaches the lake, they'll have a mere 24 hours to collect samples before the borehole freezes over again. 

The British expedition is by no means the only recent look into the science of Antarctic lakes: in February, a Russian scientific team drilled two miles through the ice to reach an ancient freshwater lake about the size of Lake Ontario, reported the New York Times. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Russian scientists in Antarctica reach "alien Lake Vostok

However, poor weather (big surprise) forced the Russians to turn back after drilling through the ice, and some scientists have questions about the sterility of the equipment, says the BBC and Yahoo News. 

Expedition updates will appear on the Lake Ellsworth website. No word yet on whether they'll be Tweeting from darkest Antarctica, but we can only hope. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/news/science/british-scientists-prepare-drill-ancient-antarctic-lake

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