Image Source: BBC.
Antarctica is home to over 400 subglacial lakes that are sealed off time capsules, miles beneath the ice. These bodies of water retain their liquidity due to heat from the Earth's core and have not seen the light of day from anywhere between 125,000 years and several million years. Three teams of American, British and Russian scientists are racing to drill at different points on the Continent to see what life forms survive in these freshwater lakes. The Americans are preparing to drill at Lake Whillans in Operation WISSARD, a project running from 2009 to 2015. The Russians have been drilling for a few years and are metres away from reaching Lake Vostok - a 15 million year old time capsule; for Russian photos of their operation - go here. At Lake Vostok, summer temperatures average minus 30 degrees Celcius and winter temperatures are around minus 80 degrees Celcius.
Underneath this ice sheet, Lake Ellsworth is considered more accessible than most subglacial lakes.
BBC just reported about a British team that is getting closer to starting their operation at Lake Ellsworth. Drilling will begin in November of this year. The conditions are terrible: in high summer, it is minus 20 degrees Celcius with extremely fast winds (30 knots). The probes have to be completely sterile so that these hidden environments are not contaminated. Once the hole is open, two miles through the ice, the team will only have 24 hours to conduct experiments before the hole freezes up again. Sounds like practice for space exploration, and indeed, the "Europa Jupiter System Mission team will be watching closely. They plan to send a lander to drill into the moon Europa’s ice-enclosed oceans to look for life."
See all my posts related to Antarctica.