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Water, sediments in ice-bound antarctic lakes may harbor unique microorganisms, ecosystems

ies that may exist there will be an extremely complex undertaking that will require "significant multinational cooperation."

The United States Antarctic Program, which is managed by NSF and which coordinates almost all U.S. research in Antarctica, already has taken some non-invasive steps to explore Lake Vostok. During the 2000-2001 research season, researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University conducted detailed airborne radar mapping of the lake to more thoroughly understand its physical and geographical boundaries.

In 1999, two NSF-funded teams, one headed by Priscu and another headed by David Karl of the University of Hawaii, published papers in Science describing evidence that viable microbes lived in the "accreted," or melted and refrozen ice from Lake Vostok.

Priscu and his co-authors write in the Nature article that these investigations into the nature of Lake Vostok "have helped to define the next generation of research objectives, and it is likely that several exciting bio-geochemical-physical systems wil be documented during the next decade."

Recognizing the scientific and technological challenges and opportunities of such an undertaking, NSF's Office of Polar Programs has established an NSF committee to study the possible scientific exploration of the lakes.

Karl Erb, who heads the U.S. Antarctic Program, cautioned committee members that future workshops to discuss whether and how to proceed with scientific exploration will need to explore how advanced technologies, including technologies that may as yet not be developed, can enable scientists to achieve their research goals. He noted that the workshops will "bring out the likely interplay between science goals and technology requirements: The goals should define the requirements but the state of the technology may proscribe the goals."

He also adds that any scientific exploration of subglacial lakes, including La
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
5-Dec-2001


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