Drilling For Extreme Life: How It Works
Vostok Station once recorded the lowest temperature on Earth: â128ÂºF. Fortunately for researchers, average temperatures in the austral summer hover around â33Âº.The Russian team will commence drilling in December. Once scientists reach liquid water, they will allow water to rise up the borehole and freeze over the winter. They will return to Vostok Station in December 2012 to test the core for life.
A thermal drill tethered to a power cable from the surface will penetrate the final 30 feet of ice. When the drill approaches the water surface, pressure and water sensors will trigger an expandable borehole packer to seal off the channel, preventing drilling fluid from contaminating the lake and allowing scientists to control how quickly the water will rise.
Lake Vostok, one of the world's largest lakes by volume, contains more than 1,000 cubic miles of water. At its farthest depths, some 14,000 feet below the surface, pressure reaches up to 438 atmospheres. If drilled improperly, the pressurized water could race up the borehole, causing an explosion powerful enough to destroy Vostok Station.