Russians Drilling to 14-Million Year Old Lake; Is Oil Next?

Every time I see “drilling” and “Antarctica” in the same sentence it makes me nervous.

It’s been happening frequently this week as Russian scientists prepare to cap a twenty-year effort to explore two-and-a-half-miles below the surface of Antarctica’s ice, by reaching what they’ve dubbed Lake Vostok. The oldest subglacial lake beneath the continent’s ice – 14 million years old – the lake may yield access to life forms never glimpsed. One study suggests the conditions in the lake are most similar to moons of Jupiter and Saturn, suggesting links to extraterrestrial life.

Right now the drill bit sits lodged in ice 328 feet above the lake; once it reaches within 65 to 100 feet, the mechanical drill bit will be replaced by a thermal lance equipped with a camera. Drilling that deep is slow going and it is possible they might not get through to the lake this austral summer and be forced to wait another year.

There are about thirty active scientific bases on Antarctica and virtually all have at some time or another had drilling operations. Usually the goal is ice cores, to help study the planet’s atmospheric history – what’s hidden in Antarctica’s two-mile thick layer of ice tells us a lot about how the planet has evolved from ice age to ice age.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to

Posted in Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica, Energy Policy, Ice

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