British scientists have called off the hunt for exotic life in an ice-bound Antarctic lake after their mission was hit by a technical hitch.
Researchers with the British Antarctic Survey had hoped to drill into Lake Ellsworth, which they believe has been frozen over for hundreds of thousands of years, in the hope of finding microbial life forms that might provide new insight into the evolution of life on Earth. They also hoped the lake floor's sediments might yield a new record of the Earth's climate.
But the project had to be called off following difficulties with drilling. A statement posted to the survey's website on Thursday said the operation had been canceled.
The group said that on Christmas Day Professor Martin Siegert, Principal Investigator of the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth experiment, confirmed that the mission to drill into the lake has been called off for this Antarctic season.
Drilling had stopped after the team was unable to form properly the water-filled cavity 300 meters beneath the ice. This cavity was to link the main borehole with a secondary borehole used to recirculate drilling water back to the surface.
Professor Siegert said: "Although circumstances have not worked out as we would have wished, I am confident that through the huge efforts of the field team, and our colleagues in the UK, we have done as much as we possibly could have done."
The first borehole was drilled to a depth of 300 meters and then left at that depth for 12 hours to create the cavity. The second, main borehole (located 2 meters away from the first) was then drilled to 300 meters and should have immediately connected with this cavity.
The team could not establish a link between the two boreholes. During this process, hot water seeped into the porous surface layers of ice and was lost.
The team attempted to dig and melt more snow, but it didn't work. The additional time depleted too much fuel to continue the operation.
The team had no option but to discontinue the program.
Siegert said: "This is of course, hugely frustrating for us, but we have learned a lot this year. By the end the equipment was working well, and much of it has now been fully field tested. A full report on the field season will be compiled when the engineers and programme manager return to UK."
Copyright 2012 MyFoxNY/The Associated Press