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7 Feb, 2012 15:12

Millions-yr-old secrets: RT at Lake Vostok drilling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Truly mind-blowing for modern science, the 20-million-year-old Antarctic lake drilling is a life-or-death trial for explorers believes RT’s correspondent Sean Thomas, who covered some research on the icy continent.

Living at a Russian station in Antarctica, everyone was aware of the work going on at Vostok and were all very interested in the daily progress. Each morning there is a radio call in which each of the research stations make contact with each other and give updates as to the news from their respective stations.

I can say that everyone at Bellingshausen on the Antarctic Peninsula could probably tell you down to the meter what the daily progress of the drilling was at the Vostok Station in the center of the continent. After all, the work at Lake Vostok was a Russian project, at a Russian base with Russian scientists, so there is a lot of pride in the work that is being done there.

Challenge for scientific cynicism

Life is truly extreme. When you step out onto the frozen rock and ice that make up the landscape, you realize that you are on the last true frontier that we have as a global society. The work is innovative and important, and the people who are doing the research so far removed from civilization deserve a great deal of respect.

Within this completely unique environment, Vostok is the most extreme, as is the work they are doing there. For me, the possibility of finding new life on Earth, this far into the technological age, is incredibly exciting. It is easy to become cynical in a world where everything seems to have already been discovered, but here we are ready to find something previously unimaginable and that is just fun!

Our chief at Bellingshausen, Viktor Vinogradov, has been part of Russia's Antarctic Expedition for most of his professional career, and he had made two overland expeditions to re-supply the Vostok Station from the coast. His stories of how extreme and dangerous the conditions are there were terrifying. Vostok is known as the Pole of Cold on the planet, or in other words, the coldest place on earth … literally.

Living on verge of death

It is not only the cold temperatures that make life dangerous there. The elevation and the fact that it is so close to the South Pole itself make the atmosphere thinner. The overall effect is that it takes an amazing toll on the body. When new teams fly in at the start of the season, the crews have to wait at least four days to acclimatize themselves. During this time, it is said that people cannot even muster enough energy to get out of bed.If at the end of this period the team member still has not adjusted, they must be evacuated out.

So in order to get to Vostok you must be in incredible health, and in order to stay there you know that your health will deteriorate. This is in addition to the already harsh conditions of working in one of the most dangerous parts of the planet – this takes true dedication.

Once you have been to Antarctica, you are part of a very small club. It is like being in a fraternity. I have been following the Vostok project very closely, and when news broke that they had actually made it into the lake, I have to admit – and no pun intended – that it sent chills through my body. I am now anxiously awaiting the news about what they have discovered. I am also in regular touch with my friends and colleagues that are still down there, and I am always asking them for updates. In this small way, I feel like I am still a small part of it all.

­Sean Thomas, RT