Russian scientists used kerosene to keep a drilled hole open in the remote Antarctic Lake Vostok.
- Russian scientists were not able to drill to liquid water in Lake Vostok before winter drove them out.
- The team filled the drill hole with kerosene to keep it open through the winter.
- Leaving chemicals in such an untouched environment worries other scientists.
The big mystery of Lake Vostok and whether it holds ancient microbial life will have to wait for another Antarctic winter to pass. A team of Russian researchers left their remote drilling site this week with less than 50 feet to go to break into the surface of a vast underground lake that has remain untouched for the past 15 million years.
In order to catch the last plane home, the Russians left behind a 12,300-foot borehole filled with kerosene to prevent it from freezing -- as well as questions for the international scientific community about whether the project will contaminate any new life forms that may be lurking below.
"I can understand the Russians don't want to start over -- it's a four kilometer ice sheet -- but this is a unique place," said Claire Christian of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group focused on environmental issues on the Antarctic continent. "You have to use the most precaution that you can, and our main concern remains contamination."