One million years old ice recovered in Antarctica | Polarjournal
Specialists of the Russian Antarctic Expedition presented a 1-million-year-old ice core at Vostok Station on January 31, 2023. The presentations of the latest success stories in front of the drilling rig in Vostok are already legendary. (Photo: AARI)

In Antarctica, unique ice samples were recovered from a depth of 3.5 km by specialists of the Russian Antarctic Expedition of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI). This is reported by the press office of the AARI. This drill core from the ice sheet over Lake Vostok is more than 1 million years old and stores information about changes in the Earth’s climate from the middle Pleistocene to the present. The new data available to scientists will help understand nature and estimate the rate of global warming in the past, which will make it possible to predict the climate situation in the near future.

Researchers with an ice core during drilling at Vostok Station. (Photo: AARI)

˝For scientists, the approximately 1 million year old ice is of greatest interest. During this time, an increased concentration of CO² could be observed in the Earth’s atmosphere, and presumably the climate system on the planet was restructured during this time. By examining climate change data stored in ice cores, scientists can hypothesize about the possible causes, timing, and consequences of the changes that have occurred to calculate how the natural system may function under conditions of elevated CO² concentrations. The global climate changes of the past were much more severe than those we are experiencing now. But they happened for natural reasons. In recent centuries, industry has been actively developing, mankind affects the atmosphere with not always well thought-out production activities. Now, as a million years ago, climate change is also occurring on Earth, but its speed is noticeably faster than ever before,” said Alexander Makarov, director of AARI.

This photo from the 1970s shows a drill core that the researchers extracted from the ice. The then Soviet Union had already started drilling under the Vostok station 50 years ago. The work was interrupted for eight years in 1998 to develop an environmentally friendly method. (Photo: AARI)

The Antarctic ice samples will be delivered to St. Petersburg to the AARI laboratory. A total of about 60 meters of ice cores were recovered from a borehole above Lake Vostok during the short summer seasonal work (December- February).

The project is being carried out by AARI as part of the program for a comprehensive study of the subglacial Lake Vostok and the Earth’s paleoclimate in the area of the Russian Antarctic station Vostok, together with specialists from the St. Petersburg Mining University. This season, four AARI staff members, including two female researchers, and eight specialists from St. Petersburg University worked in Antarctica.

Mysterious lake under the ice of Antarctica

Using the RADARSAT Antarctic data set, the Russian Vostok station (white dot) is visible on the frozen Lake Vostok. It is located in the left section of the lake in this image. (Image: NASA)

Subglacial Lake Vostok, one of the largest on Earth, was discovered in Antarctica at the end of the 20th century in the area of the Russian Vostok Station, after which it received its name. The estimated area of this subglacial freshwater reservoir is about 16,000 km². The depth of the lake is between 400 and 1,000 meters. For several million years, the ecosystem of Lake Vostok remained isolated from external influences under a sheet of ice at a depth of about 4,000 meters. Due to its location deep under the ice, it is probably the most pristine and untouched lake on earth.

Artist’s impression of a cross-section of Lake Vostok, the largest known subglacial lake in Antarctica. It is believed that liquid water takes thousands of years to flow through the lake. (Graphic: Nicolle Rager-Fuller / NSF)

The first well at Vostok Station was started in January 1970 by AARI and Mining Institute personnel.

In 1990, a joint project to obtain an ice core for climate research was launched at the Vostok Research Station with Russian, French, and U.S. participation. As it turned out later, the well is located right above Lake Vostok. The well was drilled to a depth of 3,623 meters and only stopped in January 1998 about 130 meters above the lake due to an international agreement.

Despite scientific concerns, AARI announced in early January 2011 that it would drill and sample the lake.

On February 5, 2011, drilling had to be temporarily interrupted shortly before reaching the lake due to the onset of the Antarctic winter. The Russian team continued drilling the following southern summer. On February 6, 2012, they reached the surface of Lake Vostok under a 3,768-meter-thick ice cover. The seawater flowed into the borehole and froze inside. Drill core samples were taken from this frozen lake water a few months later and sent to St. Petersburg.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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