British scientists bid to uncover Earth’s frozen secrets in Antarctica
ONE of the most ambitious scientific missions to Antarctica ever staged is set to embark from Britain for the south polar region next month – after 16 years of planning.
The team of 12 British scientists, engineers and support staff, including a leading geoscientist from Aberdeen University, plan to venture deep into the heart of the frozen continent to collect samples of water and sediments from an ancient lake buried beneath almost three miles of ice.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) expedition is aimed at revealing vital secrets about the Earth’s past climate and to discover life forms that may live in sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth on the west Antarctic ice sheet.
A spokeswoman for expedition team said: “For the past three years a team of engineers from the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre 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 kilometre 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 -25C with wind speeds averaging 25 knots.”
Martin Siegert, who is leading the expedition, said: “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 before.”