Lake Vostok lies about 4000 metres beneath the polar ice in Antarctica and was discovered by British and Russian glaciologists in 1998. It is directly beneath Russia's Vostok Station, hence the name. It is thought to be the fourth largest freshwater body in the world, at around 230 km long by 50 km wide, with a maximum water depth of over 500 metres. It is still liquid because the temperature below the ice sheet is temperate; being that far beneath the rest of Antarctica spares it from the continent's extreme cold.

Very little is known about the contents of the lake, but scientists have recently bored a hole through the ice to within 120m of the lake's water surface and have found pollen grains and inert micro-organisms. After having been cut off from the rest of the earth for over one million years, scientists, including those from NASA, are particularly interested in the contents of this exceptionally oligotropic ecosystem, as the conditions which exists within it closely resemble those thought to exist on the Europa, one of Jupiters moons.

Because of the intense weight bearing down from the ice sheet above, around 340 times atmospheric pressure, the water contains almost no dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, or other gases, and there is little possibility of geothermal vents existing at the bottom of the lake to provide warmth, but it is thought that microbes exist within this inhospitable terrain.

As I understand it, scientists are holding off drilling into the lake itself until they can be absolutely certain of not contaminating it. Given microbes' ability to not die even on space trips, this is reasonable.

However, if the water is at 340 atmospheres of pressure, when they do decide to drill it, surely they'll just create the world's most spectacular fountain as all the water is forced upwards?

I hope they've thought of that.


Lake Vostok, озеро Восток--literally, "East Lake"--is the largest of some 400 Antarctic sub-glacial lakes.  Its surface is 1600 feet below sea level; its bottom is some 1400 feet below that. It is capped by two miles of East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The lake has been of much interest to science since the Russians discovered it in the 1960s, particularly in recent times because its chemical and physical circumstances are thought to be similar to those present on Jupiter's ice-sheathed moon, Europa.

Russian scientists breached Lake Vostok in February 2012, exposing some 3500 microbe species that had been isolated for ten to twenty-five million years.



"Восток" refers to both the placement of the lake within the Antarctic continent and to a Russian sloop-of-war that served during the nineteenth century. Indeed, the lake is firmly in Russian territory. Directly above it is Vostok Station, which, from the air, resembles cardboard scraps buried in lint. The lowest natural temperature ever recorded was recorded at Vostok Station: -129° Fahrenheit, -89° Centigrade. I'll leave you alone with that for a minute.

The notion of sub-glacial lakes on Antarctica is not new. Scientist Peter Kropotkin brought the idea up at the end of the nineteenth century, drawing on the knowledge that a) pressurizing a fluid decreses its melting point, and b) glaciers weigh a whole bunch. Still, it wasn't until the 1960s that reserchers at Vostok Station took the step of directing seismic waves into the ice. I.A. Zotikov made a Ph.D. thesis of Kropotkin's musings in 1967.

Confirmation that there was, indeed, an emormous lake under the ice came in the 1970s, when an airborne radar mapping project conducted jointly by the United States and Denmark revealed flat reflections under the ice. That Lake Vostok is, more precisely, near the size of Lake Ontario was discovered by the European ERS-1 satellite in 1996.

The island in the middle of the lake was discovered in 2005.



Impossible Place

60 million years ago Antarctica supported marsupials and rainforest. It was connected to Africa and Australia, and experienced a tropical to subtropical climate. The basin that contains Lake Vostok is part of a continental collision zone, bracketed on the west by the Gumbertsev Mountain Range, the entirety of which is now under ice. The Gumbertsev Mountain Range is one billion years old.  As Antarctica drifted south, it grew glaciers.

Lake Vostok is an extreme-enough environment to cause chemistry to do, how you say, shenanigans.

Because the lake is pressurized to 5100psi, oxygen and nitrogen are dissolved in its water in quantities fifty times that in typical freshwater lakes. The gas also concentrates at the lakes's bottom as calthrates--icy, cage-like structures that look like snow.

The lake is oligotrophic, meaning with little nutrient. The lack of sunlight contributes to this. Relatedly, it is calculated that the water's mean residence time--how long it occupies liquid form in the lake before and after freezing--is some 13,000 years.

The lake has tides; the sun and moon cause the water level to fluctuate about a centimeter.




Evidence of bacteria and fungi in the ice above the lake first presented in 1999. This, along with Lake Vostok's unique geological history, lifted hopes that the lake contained a unique ecosystem.

When the lake was breached, pressurized water welled into the borehole and flash-froze.

The drilling of ice cores is not a sterile process. The Russian science team in particular earns much criticism for pumping vast amounts of freon and kerosene into boreholes to keep them open. Indeed, samples recently taken from the lake disclose one part kerosene per 100 parts water. It was assumed, then, that the first unknown species to appear on the end of the drill bit was a contaminant using kerosene as an energy source.

And then they did metagenomics.

Metagenomics is not a new technique; it's a reliable way to group the species of microbes in soil, among other places. It involves sequencing all the genetic material you have and then applying statistics. In March 2014, reserchers sequenced all the genetic material in all their samples of Lake Vostok water and applied statistics.

DNA does not fossilize well, nor does RNA. It is not possible that fossil bacteria in Lake Vostok would contain either nucleic acid. The 3500+ new species sieved out so far by metagenomics contain both.



Seized/Evangelized By Foilhats

On the lake's east coast is a one microtesla magnetic anomaly, most likely caused by a thin spot in the Earth's crust. Google "Tesla free energy." Get deep. I'll wait.

You're now prepared for the earnest notion that the magnetic anomaly is actually the vestige of an American reserch station, in the same Rube-Goldberg-device-designed-for-world-domination vein as HAARP and Agenda 21. There exists no motive, means, nor evidence for such a thing.

Also posited is that Lake Vostok is the last stronghold of prehistoric civilization. It is not.




Extreme Tech. "3500+ Species Discovered in Lake Vostok, Underneath Miles of Ice, in Conditions Similar to Jupiter's Europa."

NBC News. "Antarctica's Lake Vostok Found to Teem With Life."

Wikipedia. "Lake Vostok."

LiveScience. "What is Lake Vostok?"

Michael Studinger. "Subglacial Lake Vostok."

Buzzle. "Interesting Facts About Lake Vostok."

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