A team of Russian researchers after almost 20 years of drilling is have reached the prehistoric Lake Vostok, which has been trapped deep beneath Antarctica for the last 14 million years.
Reaching the undisturbed lake after millions of years won’t just show scientists how life might have looked millions of years ago, but how life might plausibly exist on distant planets and moons. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn, are thought to conceal similar lakes beneath their icy surfaces.
Lake Vostok (Russian: Озеро Восток, lit. “Lake East”) is the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes found under the surface of Antarctica. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleoclimatic record of 400,000 years, although the lake water itself may have been isolated for 15 to 25 million years.
Some of the lakes formed when the continent was much warmer and still connected to Australia.
Lake Vostok is located at the southern Pole of Cold, beneath Russia’s Vostok Station under the surface of the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is at 3,488 metres (11,444 ft) above mean sea level.
It has an estimated volume of 5,400 km3 (1,300 cu mi).
The lake is named after Vostok Station, which in turn is named after the Vostok, the 985-ton sloop-of-war of the discoverer of Antarctica, Russian explorer Admiral Fabian von Bellingshausen.
The word восток means “east” in Russian, and the name of the station and the lake also reflects the fact that they are located in East Antarctica.
The lake was discovered and named by Russian geographer Andrey Kapitsa based on seismic soundings made during the Soviet Antarctic Expeditions in 1959 and 1964 to measure the thickness of the ice sheet. This was one of the last major geographic discoveries on Earth.