Deep beneath the ancient ice at the bottom of the world lies Lake Ellsworth. It’s been under three kilometres of Antarctic sheet ice for at least 125,000 years, and by some estimates more like a million. Such subglacial lakes represent one of the last frontiers of global exploration. Humankind has never been able to reach them.
Now, a British research team is hoping to become the first. In October, they airlifted 70 tonnes of equipment to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Next year, they will use a 3.2 km-long hose that sprays scalding hot water to bore down into Lake Ellsworth. They will then send down robotic probes. The group expects to find clues indicating how long the ice sheet above the lake has been in place—evidence that could be useful for the study of climate change (the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels by several metres). They also expect to find life. “Just about everywhere we look on the planet, we find life,” team member David Pearce told the BBC. “Any form of life we find there, we won’t have encountered before.”