Interesting Facts About Lake Vostok That You May Not Have Heard Of

Interesting Facts About Lake Vostok
Lake Vostok is a subglacial lake that is sitting below an ice cap more than 2 miles thick, in the eastern part of Antarctica. Only recently, scientists have drilled this ice cap to explore this freshwater lake. Here's what they discovered...
It was rumored...
... that Lake Vostok was a secret 1930s Nazi U-boat base, and concealed an ice cave that stored Hitler's secret files along with his remains and those of his partner Eva Braun, for the purposes of cloning.
Antarctica, our planet's southernmost continent is a desert covered by an ice sheet that measures at least a mile in thickness. This region has close to 400 lakes which lie underneath this ice cap. Out of these sub glacial lakes, Lake Vostok is understood to be the largest.

Lake Vostok gets its name from the Russian research station bearing the same name. 'Vostok' in Russian means 'east', alluding perhaps to its location on the continent.

The Vostok Station holds the distinction of having recorded the lowest measured natural temperature on Earth at -89.2 °C (-128.56 °F). Lake Vostok sits directly below this station, under an ice sheet measuring at least a couple of miles thick.

Lake Vostok is situated in the most hostile of environment known to man - the Antarctic desert. To top that, the lake is sub glacial, being sealed off by a thick sheet of ice for approximately 25 million years.
How was Lake Vostok discovered?
Russian scientist Peter Kropotkin was among the first few to have proposed the idea of freshwater lakes under Antarctic ice sheets at the end of the 19th century. It was only in the early 1960s that Russian scientists made the use of seismic sounds to determine the thickness of the ice sheet that was beneath the Vostok station. Russian geographer Andrey Kapitsa was the first to suggest the existence of a sub glacial lake in this region, a fact that was substantiated soon after.
In the early seventies, British scientists used ice penetrating radar in the region, and gathered some unusual data coming from beneath the ice sheet. The readings suggested the presence of a freshwater lake beneath the ice sheet. It was only later that scientists actually figured out the size of this lake, confirmed to be the largest in Antarctica, and among the largest freshwater lakes of the world.
Introducing Lake Vostok
Lake Vostok
  • The surface of this freshwater lake is approximately 4,000 m under the surface of the ice, and around 500 m below sea level.
  • The lake is 160 mi long and 30 mi at its widest point.
  • It covers an area of 4,830 sq mi and has an average depth of 432 m.
  • The estimated volume of the lake is 1,300 cu mi.
  • A ridge divides the lake into two basins. The liquid water over the ridge is about 200 m, compared to roughly 400 m deep in the northern basin and 800 m deep in the southern part.
  • Research claims that the waters of Lake Vostok have been sealed off for anywhere between 15 to 25 million years.
Significance of Sub glacial Lakes
In 2012, scientists from Russia drilled a hole into this ice sheet and collected ice samples from the core. Termed accretion ice, this is a part of the sheet which covers the lake. These core samples contained microbes, the study of which would take us closer to discovering more about the life forms existing in the harshest of environments.
Unfortunately though, the samples were thought to be contaminated from the kerosene which was used as an anti-freeze agent, which led the results to be treated with some amount of suspicion.

In January, 2013, a team of Russian scientists successfully drilled out ice from the surface of Lake Vostok. They further plan to extract water samples from the lake, and sediments from the base as well.

As the extracted samples are being analyzed, all eyes are on the researchers this time. It is believed that these samples from Lake Vostok hold the key to identify living organisms in Antarctica's dark and concealed environment.

The harsh environment of Antarctica is believed to have much in common with the ice-covered Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Scientists believe that sub glacial lakes like Lake Vostok could be home to the kind of extreme life that could also survive on other planets or moons of our solar system, so finding them on Earth could help significantly in the search for life elsewhere. While other moons and planets in our solar system do not appear capable of supporting evolution, scientists say they may support, or may have once supported microbial life forms.

In time, we will gain knowledge about the kind of life forms that may or may not be found at the very bottom of our planet. But it will definitely help better our understanding about how life on Earth came into being.