Is there life in Antarctica's Lake Ellsworth?

Updated 11:32 AM ET, Wed October 31, 2012
1 of 7
A British team of scientists is leading an effort to drill down to a subglacial lake deep below Antarctica's frozen wilderness. The research will provide vital clues to the origins and limits of life on Earth. British Antarctic Survey
The British camp near Lake Ellsworth -- one of about 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica. The team plan to use a specially-designed hot water drill to blast through the ice to the untouched waters 3 km (1.86 miles) below. British Antarctic Survey
The lake, which is about 10 km (6.2 miles) long and 2-3 km (1.24-1.86 miles) wide, lies about 3 km beneath the ice. Scientists believe it will contain contain life, potentially including bacteria and viruses unknown to science, but say it will be even more scientifically significant if no life is found in its waters. British Antarctic Survey
The drilling site above Lake Ellsworth, with the Ellsworth mountain range in the distance. The subglacial lakes are believed to maintain their liquid form due to pressure from the ice above, and heat from the Earth below. British Antarctic Survey
Earlier this year, an advance party of engineers braved temperatures of -35 degrees Celsius to tow nearly 70 tons of equipment more than 250 km (155 miles) through the Ellsworth mountain range to close to the drilling site. British Antarctic Survey
The drill, shown here during testing, will blast through the ice using the heat and pressure of water at 90 degrees Celsius. Creating a 360 mm borehole through to the lake floor will require three days of continuous drilling, with water produced recycled as drilling fluid, reducing the risk of contaminating the lakewater. The borehole will shrink at a rate of 6 mm in diameter an hour as the water refreezes. British Antarctic Survey
A 10-person team of scientists, engineers and camp managers -- representing a British consortium of two environmental research centers and eight universities -- will live and work in Antarctica for about eight weeks. British Antarctic Survey