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  • Mike Doran
    Researchers find Antartic lake water will fizz like a soda August 12, 2003 Water released from Lake Vostok, deep beneath the south polar ice sheet, could gush
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 14, 2003
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      Researchers find Antartic lake water will fizz like a soda
      August 12, 2003

      "Water released from Lake Vostok, deep beneath the south polar ice
      sheet, could gush like a popped can of soda if not contained,
      opening the lake to possible contamination and posing a potential
      health hazard to NASA and university researchers.

      A team of scientists that recently investigated the levels of
      dissolved gases in the remote Antarctic lake found the
      concentrations of gas in the lake water were much higher than
      expected, measuring 2.65 quarts (2.5 liters) of nitrogen and oxygen
      per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of water. According to scientists, this
      high ratio of gases trapped under the ice will cause a gas-
      driven "fizz" when the water is released.

      "Our research suggests that U.S. and Russian teams studying the lake
      should be careful when drilling because high gas concentrations
      could make the water unstable and potentially dangerous," said Dr.
      Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon
      Valley. McKay is lead author of a paper on the topic published in
      the July issue of the 'Geophysical Research Letters' journal.

      "We need to consider the implications of the supercharged water very
      carefully before we enter this lake," said Dr. Peter Doran, a co-
      author and associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences
      at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

      Lake Vostok is a rich research site for astrobiologists, because it
      is thought to contain microorganisms living under its thick ice
      cover, an environment that may be analogous to Jupiter's moon,
      Europa. Europa contains vast oceans trapped under a thick layer of
      ice. Russian teams are planning to drill into Lake Vostok's 2.48
      mile (four kilometer) ice cover in the near future, and an
      international plan calls for sample return in less than a decade.

      An important implication of this finding is that scientists expect
      oxygen levels in the lake water to be 50 times higher than the
      oxygen levels in ordinary freshwater lakes on Earth. "Lake Vostok is
      an extreme environment, one that is supersaturated with oxygen,"
      noted McKay. "No other natural lake environment on Earth has this
      much oxygen."

      The research also suggests that organisms living in Lake Vostok may
      have had to evolve special adaptions, such as high concentrations of
      protective enzymes, in order to survive the lake's oxygen-rich
      environment, the researchers say. Such defense mechanisms may also
      protect life in Lake Vostok from oxygen radicals, the dangerous
      byproducts of oxygen breakdown that cause cell and DNA damage. This
      process may be similar to that of organisms that scientists theorize
      may once have lived on Europa, whose ice layer and atmosphere are
      thought to contain radiation-produced radicals and oxygen.

      "We expect to find that the organisms in Lake Vostok are capable of
      overcoming very high oxygen stress," said co-author Dr. John Priscu,
      a geo-biologist at Montana State University in Bozeman. Priscu heads
      an international group of researchers that will deploy a remote
      observatory at Lake Vostok within three years and return samples
      within 10 years.

      The team also determined the ratios of gases in the lake. The
      scientists discovered that the air-gas mixture there, besides
      dissolving in the water, also is trapped in a type of structure
      called a 'clathrate'. In clathrate structures, gases are enclosed in
      an icy cage and look like packed snow. These structures form at the
      high pressure depths of Lake Vostok and would be unstable if brought
      to the surface.

      Lake Vostok is located 2.48 miles (four kilometers) beneath the East
      Antarctic Ice Sheet. The lake, and more than 70 other lakes deep
      beneath the polar plateau, are part of a large, sub-glacial
      environment that has been isolated from the atmosphere since
      Antarctica became covered with ice more than 15 million years ago.
      Scientists theorize that Lake Vostok probably existed before
      Antarctica became ice covered, and may contain evidence of
      conditions on the continent when the local climate was subtropical.

      For images and further information about plans to return research
      samples from Lake Vostok, go to:


      NASA Ames Research Center


      Note that the microbial biosphere would have been conductive and the
      hydrates insulative when Antarctica wasn't snow covered, and when it
      uncovers of ice, over longer timescales, the biosphere can come alive
      with its electrical dynamics there. I am not related to Peter.

      It's all biological and electrical.
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