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A National Science Foundation researcher trudges across the East Antarctic Ice Sheet at Vostok - officially the coldest place on Earth where temperatures plunged recently to minus 132 dgrees Fahrenheit. Miles under the ice on which he walks is a freshwater lake as long as Lake Ontario and deep as Lake Tahoe. Its waters may harbor microbes unchanged from a time millions of years ago when Antarctica was as green as the rainforests of Brazil.

Michael Studinger,

Brits call off drilling for life under 2 miles of Antarctic ice

  • Associated Press
  • December 27, 2012 - 8:06 PM

LONDON - British researchers hunting for life in a lake under 2 miles of Antarctic ice called off their mission after drilling delays led to a fuel shortage.

The team decided to stop Tuesday after failing to link two boreholes about 900 feet beneath the ice, according to the British Antarctic Survey, part of the drilling group.

The researchers will have to wait at least another year to try reaching Lake Ellsworth, which has been isolated under the West Antarctic ice sheet for hundreds of thousands of years. They had hoped to test water samples for microbial life and search the lake bed for clues into the past climate of Antarctica.

"This is, of course, hugely frustrating for us, but we have learned a lot this year," principal investigator Martin Siegert said on Thursday in an e-mailed statement. "I remain confident that we will unlock the secrets of Lake Ellsworth in coming seasons."

The researchers had struggled with a leaking cavity. They used so much fuel melting snow to fill the cavern that they didn't have enough to complete the project, which relied on a pressurized hot-water drill.

Siegert, a professor of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, first thought of searching for life in Antarctica's underground lakes 16 years ago. Ellsworth was chosen as a target for the $13 million project eight years later.

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