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Scientists Drill Into 3,500 Feet of Ice To Reach a Mysterious Antarctic Lake

Late last week, a team of about 50 scientists, drillers, and support staff successfully punched through nearly 4,000 feet of ice to access an Antarctic subglacial lake for just the second time in human history. From a report: On Friday, the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) team announced they’d reached Lake Mercer after melting their way through an enormous frozen river with a high-pressure, hot-water drill. The multi-year effort to tap into the subglacial lake — one of approximately 400 scientists have detected across Antarctica — offers a rare opportunity to study the biology and chemistry of the most isolated ecosystems on Earth. The only other subglacial lake humans have drilled into — nearby Lake Whillans, sampled in 2013 — demonstrated that these extreme environments can play host to diverse microbial life. Naturally, scientists are stoked to see what they’ll find lurking in Lake Mercer’s icy waters. “We don’t know what we’ll find,” John Priscu, a biogeochemist at Montana State University and chief scientist for SALSA, told Earther via satellite phone from the SALSA drill camp on the Whillans Ice Plain. “We’re just learning, it’s only the second time that this has been done.”

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