(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
British scientists wishing to study subglacial Lake Ellsworth in Antarctica for clues to our planet's evolutionary roadmap have had their efforts cut short due to technical issues. The team has announced it is abandoning the ambitious project to drill through almost two miles of ice for the remainder of the season.
The researchers are interested in Lake Ellsworth because it is trapped under ice and believed to have been untouched by humans for almost half a million years. The scientists are hoping that the extreme and high-pressure nature of the lake's environment would give them access to simple life forms and a history of our planet's climate recorded in the sediment.
The $13 million project, led by the British Antarctic Survey, hit its mission-ending roadblock when two boreholes they drilled wouldn't connect. The first borehole was to provide a hot-water cavity to be used to circulate drilling water. But the second borehole was never able to connect with the first borehole like it was supposed to, and the team depleted its resources after numerous attempts.
We kept trying for over 24 hours to reach that connection but we couldn't do it," principal investigator of the project Martin Siegert, from the University of Bristol, told BBC.
"All that time we were losing fuel and water from the ice sheet surface and we got to a critical condition where our calculations showed us we simply didn't have enough fuel to continue any further down into the ice sheet to hit the top of the lake," he said.
This isn't the first snag the project has encountered. A boiler malfunction recently delayed efforts as the team had to wait for a replacement part to be flown in from the United Kingdom just last week.
There is no indication as to when the project will resume and the team is currently preparing for the equipment to be transported back to the United Kingdom.