SCIENTISTS have drilled a hole nearly a mile deep into Antarctica in the hopes of finding creatures hidden for millions of years.
Jets of hot water fired with the force of a high-speed car were used to bury through thick ice above the continent’s ancient Lake Mercer.
Mercer is one of 400 lakes beneath Antarctica, lying around 4,000 feet under a huge ice sheet, and has never been explored by scientists.
It covers an area close to 62 square miles – larger than the city of Cardiff – though it is believed to be just ten to 15 metres deep.
Scientists say that any life there could raise the hopes of finding similar organisms beneath the surface of Mars, or the ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Researchers working as part of the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) team reached the subglacial lake last week after three days of drilling.
They melted their way to the ancient pool of water using a high-pressure, hot-water drill – marking the first time humanity has accessed Mercer.
It is only the second time scientists have successfully drilled into one of Antarctica’s deep subglacial lakes.
“The Drill Team began drilling the main borehole on the evening of December 23 and reached the lake faster than expected at 10:30pm on December 26 with a borehole depth of 1084 meters,” SALSA said in a statement.
The 45-strong team of scientists, drillers and other experts have already sent instruments down the huge borehole.
They plan to lower a remote-operated robot into the lake to explore its ancient nooks and crannies.
The team will research the geology of the subglacial pool, as well as the chemical make up of its water.
They also hope to uncover ancient species of microbe that have lived undisturbed in the lake’s murky depths for tens of millions of years.
‘We don’t know what’s going to be there,’ John Priscu, a lake ecologist at Montana State University in Bozeman and leader of the project told Nature.
‘That’s what makes it so much fun.’
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