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Radio Silence From Researchers Drilling Into 20-Million-Year-Old Antarctic Lake


With only three days left before a team of researchers is to return home after drilling into a 20-million-year-old lake under 13,000 feet of Antarctic ice, radio communication has gone silent on their end.

(Update: Russian team drilling toward 20-million-year-old Antarctic lake reportedly reaches goal)

BBC reported last week that the crew -- set to come home on Feb. 6 while the weather is still good enough for a plane to land -- was only 50 meters away from reaching their desired depth to access Lake Vostok after drilling nonstop for weeks in -66 degree Celsius weather

Now, the Daily Mail reports, that colleagues in the United States lost contact with the Russian team. The scientists are digging to the long-untouched water to help provide clues to what earlier conditions on Earth were like.

The Daily Mail has more on the situation:

A support team in the U.S. has been unable to make radio contact with the crew on the ice for the past five days.

The drilling operation is highly intricate -- and dangerous.There is a risk of explosion from oxygen and nitrogen trapped in the lake.

The Daily Mail reports that machinery will not drill directly into the lake, as researchers don't want it to touch the water, but there are concerns that too much water could forcibly come shooting up the hole. Up to a quarter of the water of the lake, which is similar in size to Lake Ontario, could shoot out in the worst case scenario, according to the scientists.

Fox News reports John Priscu, professor of ecology at Montana State University who is heading up a similar Antarctic exploration program, as saying the temperature will only get colder now that winter is setting in:

The team's disappearance could not come at a worse time: They are about 40 feet from their goal of reaching the body of water, Priscu explained, a goal that the team was unable to meet as they raced the coming winter exactly one year ago.

When the winter arrives in the next few weeks, the temperature can get twice as cold. Vostok Station boasts the lowest recorded temperature on Earth: -89.4 degrees Celsius (-129 degrees Fahrenheit).


"Ice isn't like rock, it's capable of movement," Dr. Priscu told FoxNews.com. "So in order to keep the hole from squeezing shut, they put a fluid in the drill called kerosene. Kerosene also grows bacteria, and there's about 65 tons of kerosene in that hole. It would be a disaster if that kerosene contaminated this pristine lake."

But the scientists came up with a clever way to make sure this debacle would not occur. They agreed to drill until a sensor warned them of free water. At that point they will take out the right amount of kerosene and adjust the pressure so that none of the liquids fall into the lake, but rather lake water would rise through the hole.

Fox reports Priscu as saying he has some concern for his colleagues but with the drama of how the water would be extracted and now lack of communication, notes that it makes for an interesting plot for a Hollywood movie.

Fox states that it contacted the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute but did not receive a response.

In the mean time, scientists wait with bated breath for both the Russian team and news of the samples from pristine, 20-million-year-old water they could bring back.

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