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British Scientists to Search for Life Beneath Antarctic Lake Ice

Sep 09, 2012 02:32 PM EDT
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A team of British scientists is on an expedition to search for life in the harsh environments of Antarctica.

The 12-member research team, which will be completing their trip to the cold place in October, will begin to drill Lake Ellsworth by December, which is buried below 2 miles (3 kilometers) of ice on the continent.

Lake Ellsworth is believed to be a likely place to search for life. Experts will be having only 24 hours to test the untouched water samples before the hole freezes again and closes the lake, reported Live Science.

They have already transported 100 tons of equipment to Antarctica. They will be working in cold weather conditions, where the temperature goes to an average minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25 degrees Celsius) even during the summer season.

"Life's going to be quite difficult," Chris Hill, British Antarctic Survey program manager who is part of the team, told Live Science.

" The researchers will camp out in the desolate region where, even though it will be summer, the temperature will average minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25 degrees Celsius) and the wind will whip up to speeds of 29 miles per hour (25 knots). "It's not a very pleasant place to live and work," Hill said.

Scientists believe that living organisms like microbes could possibly thrive in lakes using different sources of chemical energy even if sunlight doesn't penetrate. If the researchers find life in the lake, it could possibly suggest that life can thrive in any extreme environment not just on Earth but also on other planets.

According to a report in The Independent, NASA will also be closely monitoring the British team's expedition as it could possibly provide guidance for their future space mission to one of the icy moons of Jupiter.

Besides the British team's expedition, a separate expedition by American scientists will begin to drill another system of lakes and rivers below the ice sheet in western Antarctica. The team will test the water samples in a series of lakes and rivers called Lake Whillans and the Whillans Ice Stream in order to find the presence of microbial life, the Live Science report said. 

In addition to finding microbial life, experts are also planning to study the origin of those micro-organisms - whether they originated from a natural ecosystem or came from an ocean backflow.  In order to find out if the microbes from the natural environment, they will monitor the changes in the chemical composition which could suggest that the microbes are consuming and releasing waste materials, the report added.

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