Many have perished attempting to reach the icy continent of Antarctica. Others, such as the early explorer Robert Scott, died on the continent.
That hasn’t stopped the people at the Lake Vostok exploration site. The lake, which is 4,000 meters (about 2.5 miles) below the surface, is interesting because it is believed to harbor microbial life and because it is one of the purest water sources on the planet. It is about the size of Lake Ontario.
Russian researchers theorized about the existence of such a lake in the 1960s, and a radar mapping team of engineers and scientists from the U.S., Denmark, and the United Kingdom discovered a flat area on the surface of the ice that suggested a subterranean lake. The existence of the lake was confirmed in 1996 by a satellite imaging team from Europe.
A Russian exploration station was established above the lake and a core sample was taken in 1999 by drilling down to a point just 495 feet above the lake. The ice samples taken are believed to come from the lake water. It was a profound discovery when scientists learned that the samples contained microbial life.
To date, drilling has not continued into the lake because scientists don’t want to contaminate it. Further, information from the Russian government indicates technical problems in recent drills. Scientists are apparently satisfied that microbial life in the ice just above the lake is a sound indicator of life in the waters; international pressure to drill into the waters would prevail otherwise.
The information has become a focus point for arguments about life in other worlds such as Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Many scientists have theorized that life probably exists in the subterranean ocean of Europa because it exists in the analogous world of Lake Vostok.
It would be highly useful if engineers could build a device capable of detecting large-scale life in the waters of Lake Vostok. Fish finders already exist and are commonly used in ice fishing under much thinner ice. A device capable of detecting aquatic life in Lake Vostok would require much greater sensitivity because the lake is so far below the surface. Obviously, any life that is detected may be quite different from other known aquatic life.