Deep Under the Antarctic Ice
December 10, 2001
Antarctica is home to more than 70 lakes that lie thousands of meters under the ice sheet. One of these, Lake Vostok, lies deep in the Antarctic interior and is comparable in size and depth to Lake Ontario. These lakes are likely the home to unique habitats and creatures that thrive in them. John Priscu of Montana State University and other microbiologists working with ice samples thought to be refrozen water from Lake Vostok gathered from deep beneath Russia's Vostok Station have argued that microbes may survive in extreme cold and darkness under more than 4,000 meters of ice. The electron microscope images above are of various microbial organisms found in ice samples from Vostok cores drilled to within a few hundred meters of the lake. Developing both the technology and the experimental protocols to explore the lakes themselves without contaminating the waters or harming any microbial communities that may exist there will necessarily be a complex international undertaking requiring extreme care.