After three weeks of crossing frozen terrain to reach the lake, and five days to dig a hole through its icy lid.
For this was no ordinary ice-fishing expedition:
Slawek Tulaczyk and his team had drilled through 800 meters of ice into Antarctica’s Lake Whillans.
The team’s efforts – battling through 14-hour shifts in some of the harshest conditions on Earth – are part of a massive endeavor to uncover the continent’s hidden secrets.
Explorers trudged across its white blanket in pursuit of world records, over a century ago,
but in the last few decades a different kind of explorer has started to dig directly through ice, that Jill Mikucki at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville known as a sub-ice water-world.
It is considered as a discovery of a totally new continent with lakes, rivers, volcanoes, even life:
Hardly the frozen wasteland of popular imagination.
The process started in 1957, when a ship carrying members of the third Soviet Antarctic expedition arrived at the East sledges and a tractor but no men.
Along regular intervals, they set off small explosives and recorded the echo of seismic waves as they travelled through the ice and bounced off whatever lay beneath. Close to the centre of East Antarctica, the explorers found a region made of thin ice.
Then they saw a mountain (see picture far below). Almost 3000 meters high, the Gamburtsev mountain range has an Alpine topography, replete with rugged peaks and hanging valleys, yet it is completely hidden from view.
ANTARCTICA’S GAMBURTSEV PROVINCE PROJECT
The thickness of the ice there is from few hundreds to 3.2 km.
Thanks to the immense pressure of the ice above and geothermal heat from below planes equipped with ice-penetrating radar revealed bodies of water locked between the ice and the bedrock: lakes hundreds, sometimes thousands of meters beneath, and still liquid These were the days before GPS and its Russian equivalent GLONASS, and pilots had to keep the Russian Vostok research station in their sights or risk getting lost over the vast, white, featureless expanse during the late 1960s and early 1970s