The Antarctic has a new hole. It is more than a kilometer deep, barely two feet wide and ends in a body of water called Lake Mercer.
Lake Mercer is referred to as a "lost" lake. It lies deep under the ice and is inaccessible to ordinary experiments.
Researchers can now immerse themselves in this "lost" lake and conduct experiments that tell us about the geology and hydrology of a hidden subglacial world, and perhaps even find one or two unique species along the way.
It was a festive moment for members of the SALSA (Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access) project, which began drilling on the evening of December 23, and finalized their target at a depth of 1
If all this sounds familiar, in 2013 the scientists also cooked through 800 meters of ice to reach a water bubble Called Lake Whillans.
At about the same time, Russian scientists were within a hair's breadth of the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) deep Vostok Lake, taking in some of their icy surface water before the hole could freeze.
The previous year, a failed attempt was made in Lake Ellsworth. It was abandoned after the drilling team unsuccessfully attempted to connect a pair of wells that would dig and recirculate the water.
Lake Mercer is not the first hole, but it's still worth it. Content analysis is important if we want to understand how Antarctica waters are moving under such a thick ice crust, not to mention the organic carbon stream and other biological processes.
Hundreds of large bodies of water swim deep beneath the icy crust of Antarctica, many of which are interconnected by highways of rivers and streams. Given the role that the frozen continent plays in the global climate of our planet and its potential instability, it's scary how little we know about its geology and hydrology.
Busting through such thick ice is not an easy task. The "drill" itself consists of a pencil-sized nozzle, which sprays hot water with the power of a locomotive.
Just to put the nozzle into operation, nearly 500 tons (about one million pounds) of equipment – including lifelong support researchers – was pulled across the flat surface of McMurdo, a two-month grinding trip.
Many of these devices have the job of keeping things clean. It makes little sense to create a gateway into a relatively untouched environment if you only pollute it with impurities. Therefore, all equipment was decontaminated with hydrogen peroxide.
Water from local ice was stored in a second nearby hole and additionally sterilized with UV light before being introduced into the tube. It was also filtered to remove 99.9 percent of the particles and was constantly tested.
Still worried? Under so much ice, the lake is under constant pressure. The moment his icy cap was blown up, water was forced into the hole, where it froze quickly, meaning that barely heated surface material had time to mingle with the ecosystem.
Previously, these were the only data. Some shots of the borehole and lake and some measurements including depth, conductivity and temperature were collected.
Researchers tested a device called a gravity drill. When the hole has dropped from a great height, it is thrown down into the sediment and a 6 meter (20 foot) cylinder of material is pulled up for analysis.
What they find will help determine the progression of eroded minerals and spoilage. This is useful to inform theories and models about the subglacial hydrodynamics and geology of Antarctica.
Of course there is also the hope to find some undiscovered species along the way.
Lake Mercer is not exactly cut off from the outside world, with sales of freshwater measured in decades. Its contents flow into the Ross Sea, and most of the water flows west from the Whillans Ice Stream.
However, since Antarctica has been covered with a thick ice cap for decades, there could well be pockets of organisms that have evolved in the relative isolation of these deep, dark corners.
If nothing else, it is a good practice for us to finally penetrate the icy moons of our solar system in search of foreign biochemistry.
It's Tied Up Be an exciting 2019 for the SALSA science team. We wish you good luck!