As biting winds cut through the below-freezing air around them, a team of researchers will next year seek to discover previously-unknown life by exploring an Antarctic lake that redefines the notion of "remote."
Lake Ellsworth is roughly 10 km (6.2 miles) long and is estimated to be several tens of meters deep. The reason Its depth can only be estimated is that, although it has been mapped by radar, Lake Ellsworth has never been seen by human eyes.
It lies beneath 3 km (1.86 miles) of ice, one of 387 so-called subglacial lakes in the Antarctic continent, its liquid state maintained by geothermal heat from below Earth's crust. It has been isolated from the rest of the world for perhaps a half million years, but now a British expedition is on its way to Antarctica to bring a temporary halt to the lake's isolation and, in the process, yield information about past life on Earth, possible life on future planets, and our own planet's climate, past and present.
The expedition, a collaboration between the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the United Kingdom's National Oceanography Center and a number of British universities, will use a hot water drill to break down through the ice to the lake. A titanium probe will be lowered to take samples of water, and a corer will extract up to three metres of sediment.