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1. U.S. NEWS MEDIA CAN LEGALLY LIE TO YOU
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> Robot To Explore Lake Ellsworth, West Antarctica


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Posted: May 22 2005, 05:57 AM
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QUOTE
Robot To Explore Buried Ice Lake
By Robin McKie
Science Editor
5-22-5

British scientists have been given the go-ahead for a project aimed at dropping a robot probe into a vast, subterranean lake two miles below the Antarctic ice.
 
The aim is to study the microbes and other lifeforms found in Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica and to study sediments on its floor. The latter could provide vital information about climate change.
 
'We have no idea when the West Antarctic ice sheet last melted completely,' said Professor Martin Siegert, of Bristol University. 'But by studying these sediments we should be able to work out if West Antarctica was completely ice-free in the recent geological past, a few hundred thousand years ago.
 
'Given the rate at which the planet is heating up, we need to know just how vulnerable the West Antarctic ice sheet is. If it melts completely, sea levels will rise by six metres or more and drown great stretches of coastline round the world.'
 
Lake Ellsworth is buried more than two miles beneath the ice sheet and is one of 145 sub-glacial lakes that have recently been pinpointed on the continent by airborne radar surveys. Scientists now know that heat emanating from Earth's core gently melts the base of the Antarctic ice sheet and this produces vast caverns - many of them dozens of miles in length - that have filled with water.
 
'In some cases, this water has lain undisturbed for millions of years,' said Siegert, who is leading the Ellsworth project, a multi-disciplinary team from 12 UK universities and research centres. 'The lakes are therefore of incalculable scientific importance - and not just for understanding life on Earth. We now know that Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, is coated with a thick layer of ice that covers a vast ocean and this could, possibly, provide a home to alien lifeforms.
 
'However, if we want to go and look for these, as space engineers are planning, we will first have to learn how to explore ice-covered environments on Earth.'
 
And that will not be easy. Most of Antarctica's buried lakes are found on the eastern half of the continent, including its biggest - Lake Vostok. This was until recently the favourite candidate for a drilling project, but the logistical problems have proved daunting. The lake is buried under 4km (2.5 miles) of ice.
 
Nor is it possible to use standard oil-drilling technology to reach the lake. Kerosene, used as an anti-freeze, would contaminate the pristine water below the ice. So they aim to use hot-water drills: essentially huge shower heads that spray out water at high temperature and pressure and which would simply melt their way downwards.
 
'The trouble is that the ice above Lake Vostok is incredibly cold - minus 60 Celsius - and that makes it difficult to melt,' added Siegert. 'So we have picked Lake Ellsworth.'
 
www.ggy.bris.ac.uk/ellsworth
 
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
 
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/sto...1489628,00.html




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