- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Lake Vostok: Stirred, Not Shaken
19 February 2001 7:00 pm
At least 76 lakes have been trapped under Antarctica's ice shield for millions of years. Vostok, the largest, is the size of Lake Ontario and plunges up to 1000 meters deep within a rugged valley. Previous radar surveys of ice layers above the lake hinted that 10 centimeters of ice melt each year at the northwestern end of the lake, where the melting temperature is lower because of pressure from the thicker overlying ice. Water then refreezes at the lake's other end. This slow circulation, researchers deduced, would replace the lake's volume every 50,000 to 100,000 years (ScienceNOW, 9 February 2000).
Recent fieldwork now hints at a faster pace. A team led by geologist Robin Bell of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York spent 33 days at Lake Vostok in December and January, flying over the lake more than 60 times. The radar images they took suggest that the melting-refreezing cycle is at least three times faster than previously thought, Bell reported here 17 January at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes ScienceNOW.
The team also put two seismometers on the ice and caught a magnitude 3 earthquake. Three other relatively mild quakes have struck the region in the last century with likely magnitudes between 4 and 5, Bell notes. The seismic motions make sense, she says, because the steepness of one side of the lake suggests a restless geologic boundary. "It's not a piece of quiet old crust," Bell says. "The Earth is actively moving." This activity means that nutritious mineral-rich fluids--and possibly heat--may seep into the lake from below.
Heat and faster circulation are good news for those who hope to find an ecosystem below the ice, says ecologist John Priscu of Montana State University in Bozeman. Circulating nutrients within the lake would feed organisms, which may draw energy from hydrothermal fluids. However, it may take more than a decade for scientists to develop the sterile drilling tools needed to sample the lake without contaminating it.