British scientists are about to mount one of the boldest-ever missions to search for life forms that have survived for possibly millions of years in a frozen “lost world” beneath an ancient ice sheet. This week a team of Antarctic scientists has been given the go-ahead to drill through a two-mile-thick sheet of ice that has sealed a sub-glacial lake from the rest of the biosphere for at least as long as Homo sapiens has walked the Earth.
They hope to find species that have survived below the ice sheet since it formed between 400 000 and two million years ago. Finding life in such an extreme environment would be one of the most important discoveries of the century raising the prospect of searching for extra-terrestrial life on Europa a moon of Jupiter where life is thought to exist beneath a frozen ocean.
The scientists plan to use sophisticated ice-drilling technology developed in the UK to penetrate the ice cap and enter the liquid-water world of Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica one of about 150 sub-glacial lakes scientists have recently mapped with ice-penetrating radar.