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Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok is a subglacial lake in Antarctica comparable in size and depth to Lake Ontario. There is some evidence that Vostok's waters may contain microbial life.

Lake Vostok lies beneath Russia's Vostok Station, thousands of meters under the surface of the continental ice sheet. Vostok Station is located near the South Geomagnetic Pole, at the center of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The station is 3.5 kilometers (11,484 feet) above sea level. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth, -89.2 degree Celsius (-128.6° Fahrenheit), was measured at Vostok Station on July 21, 1983.

Lake Vostok's physical characteristics have led scientists to argue that it might serve as an earthbound analog for Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Confirming that life can survive in Lake Vostok might strengthen the argument for the presence of life on Europa.

Russian and British scientists confirmed the lake's existence in 1996 by integrating a variety of data, including airborne ice-penetrating radar observations and spaceborne radar altimetry.

Researchers working at Vostok Station produced one of the world's longest ice cores in 1998. A joint Russian, French, and U.S, team drilled and analyzed the core, which is 3623 meters (11,886 feet) long.

The core contains layers of ice deposited over millennia, representing a record of Earth's climate stretching back more than 420,000 years. Drilling of the core was deliberately halted roughly 150 meters (492 feet) above the suspected boundary where the ice sheet and the liquid waters of the lake are thought to meet to prevent contamination of the lake.

It is from samples of this ice core, specifically from ice that is thought to have formed from lake water freezing onto the base of the ice sheet, that NSF-funded scientists believe they have found evidence that the lake water supports life. Their research was published in Science magazine in 1999.

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