Scientists Reach Buried Lake in Antarctica

February 25, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. drill (v.) – to use a machine or tool to make a hole
Example: The workers drill for oil using heavy machines.

2. buried (adj.) – hidden or covered
Example: His bed was buried under piles of clothes.

3. analogous (adj.) – similar in some aspects
Example: Some cellphone keypads are analogous to keyboards.

4. contamination (n.) – act of polluting with unwanted substances
Example: Food contamination can be avoided by sealing food in tight containers.

5. alter (v.) – to change
Example: The operator altered the machine’s speed to increase production.

Read the text below.

After years of drilling through Antarctica’s deep glaciers, a team from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) has successfully reached the surface of Lake Vostok. The body of water has been buried underneath 13,000 feet of ice for 20 million years.

According to John Priscu, a microbiologist from Montana State University, the study of the lake gives scientists a chance to discover new life forms. Scientists also predict that the conditions in the lake are analogous to those in the icy waters of Mars or Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Any sign of life found in Lake Vostok could then suggest the possibility of life outside Earth.

The Lake Vostok project started with scientists initially drilling through 6,060 square miles of ice in 1998. However, after reaching 11,800 feet, they were forced to stop until they could find a way to prevent water contamination. Scientists from the international community were worried that anti-freeze chemicals used in drilling, such as kerosene, would mix with the water. Russian scientists eventually came up with a plan to avoid the problem.

The Russian team decided to use a sensor that detects the presence of free water. When the sensor alerted scientists that water was close, the drill was removed completely. The altered pressure then caused the lake water to rise through the hole and to quickly freeze, blocking chemicals from flowing down into the lake. ­

The researchers had been working at the Vostok station despite the start of the Antarctic winter, wherein temperatures reach up to -80F. They will be returning to study the frozen water samples in December 2012, when the weather is warmer and working conditions are less dangerous.

Aside from AARI, other teams of scientists are competing to be the first to reach the hidden  glacial lakes in Antarctica. The British Antarctic Survey is trying to uncover Lake Ellsworth, while US scientists are involved in the Whillans Ice Stream expedition.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Why do you think scientists are eager to find proof of life on other planets?
·         Do you believe that we can live on other planets someday? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         What could be the effects if scientists continue to study unexplored places on earth?
·         Do you think these places are better left alone to protect them from contamination? Please explain further.


February 25, 2012