Researchers have thawed ice estimated to be perhaps a million years old or more from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden more than two miles beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica using novel genomic techniques to determine how tiny, living "time capsules" survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold, and without food and energy from the sun.
A major issue is the reality that it is impossible to penetrate an isolated ecosystem without contaminating it. The catch 22 inherent in Lake Vostok is that the very thing that make it potentially unique: because of its millennia of isolation from the rest of the world, it cannot be explored without introduction of microbes from the outer world.
NASA has expressed interest in exploring the lake to search for microbes that might be similar to ones on other planets. How the bacteria get energy to survive is an important unanswered question. The lake could be an analog to Jupiter’s moon Europa or subsurface Mars where conditions are similar.
The ice segments were cut from an 11,866-foot ice core drilled in 1998 through a joint effort involving the United States, Russia, and France. The core was taken from approximately two miles below the surface of Antarctica and 656 feet (200 meters) above the surface of the lake, and has since been stored at -35 degrees Celsius at the National Ice Core Laboratory, Denver, Colo.