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Robot Sub To Explore Buried Antarctic Lake
 London (AFP) September 21, 1999 - A small robot submarine is being lined up to explore a mysterious lake buried deep under the Antarctic ice which is believed to contain water millions of years old and which may be the home of ancient organisms, the organisers of the project said Tuesday.

The enigmatic freshwater lake, the size of Lake Ontario, is the largest of 70 bodies of water that were first detected under the polar ice-sheet in the 1970s.

Named Lake Vostok, it has been measured by satellite radar altimetry to to about 230 kilometers (143 miles) long by 50 kilometres (31 miles) wide and about 500 metres (1,625 feet) deep, lying around four kilometers (2.5 miles) under the ice.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which is organising a meeting of 70 scientists in Cambridge on September 26-28 to discuss research initiatives, says the lake has excited huge interest.

A BAS microbiologist, Cinan Ellis-Evans, said plans were afoot to carry out non-polluting research of Lake Vostok, under which a robot, called a cryobot, would melt its way down into the ice and enter the lake, and then attach itself to the underside of the icesheet.

A door will then open out and a "hydrobot," a remote-operated vehicle equipped with a camera, would emerge and dive into the lake and explore the sediment, a substance that could be up to 40 million years old, he said.

"We are very optimistic that we are going to find microbes. Every extreme environment that we have looked at so far, we have found life. Whether those microbes are going to be different from the one we know is going to be the interesting thing," Ellis-Evans said.

Geologists and glaciologists are also hoping the little submarine will provide an insight to the structure and movement of large ice sheets.

NASA has likewise shown interest in the lake as a possible test site for studies into Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is believed to be covered in ice, the BAS said.

Estimates of the age of Lake Vostok range from hundreds of thousands to millions of years old.

One scenario is that the lakes were sealed after the ice sheet formed over the South Pole countless years ago, and have not been exposed to the atmosphere since, the BAS says.

In 1996, scientists carried out ice-core drilling but stopped at around 100 metres (325 metres) for fear of contaminating the lake by drill fluids.

Copyright 1999 AFP. All rights reserved. The material on this page is provided by AFP and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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