American drillers reach Antarctica's sub-glacial Lake Whillans
London, Jan. 29: An American attempt to bore down into Lake Whillans, buried almost one kilometer under the Antarctic ice, has achieved its aim.
Scientists reported on Sunday that sensors on their drill system had noted a change in pressure, indicating contact had been made with the lake.
According to the BBC, a camera was then sent down to verify the breakthrough.
The Whillans project is one of a number of such ventures trying to investigate Antarctica's buried lakes.
Lake Whillans is located in the west of Antarctica, on the southeastern edge of the Ross Sea.
It is less of a lake and more of a dense system of streams, almost like a delta, that covers some 60 square km. The liquid body is quite shallow - just a few meters in depth, the report said.
The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (Wissard) team has been using a hot-water drill to melt a 30cm-diameter hole through the overlying ice.
Breakthrough to the lake surface was reported on the project's website.
The intention, now that the hole is secure, is to lower various sampling tools and sensors into the lake to study its properties and environment.
Some of the samples will be assessed onsite at the ice surface in temporary labs, and others will be returned to partner universities for more extensive analysis.
The Wissard blog said the thickness of the overlying ice was measured to be 801m, which agreed well with the estimates from seismic imaging.
More than 300 large bodies of water have now been identified under the White Continent.
Dr David Pearce from the UK's Ellsworth team described the Whillans breakthrough as 'exciting', the report added.