American, British and Russian research teams are in three-way race to make first contact with long-lost lakes beneath Antarctica’s icy surface. In search of new life forms that would have evolved in isolation, as well as climate change data, the teams will drill through ice sheets thousands of yards thick before lowering probes to collect samples of water and sediment. They will have to work quickly. Just 24 hours after drilling, water will rise through the hole and freeze again, as though no drilling had occurred at all.
What’s the Big Idea?
Besides seeking new life forms, the explorers will collect data on the west Antarctic ice sheet. Glaciers in the ice sheet have been disappearing for years due to warming caused by global climate change. “If the sheet collapses, sea levels will rise at least 3 meters, and possibly as much as 5 meters, swamping low-lying areas worldwide.” Sediments which the British team aim to collect should tell them when the ice sheet last collapsed. The longer ago it happened, the better; the more resilient the ice sheet, the less likely it is to collapse in the future.