Lake Vostok, озеро Восток--literally, "East Lake"--is the largest of some 400 Antarctic sub-glacial lakes. Its surface is 1600 feet below sea level; its bottom is some 1400 feet below that. It is capped by two miles of East Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The lake has been of much interest to science since the Russians discovered it in the 1960s, particularly in recent times because its chemical and physical circumstances are thought to be similar to those present on Jupiter's ice-sheathed moon, Europa.
Russian scientists breached Lake Vostok in February 2012, exposing some 3500 microbe species that had been isolated for ten to twenty-five million years.
"Восток" refers to both the placement of the lake within the Antarctic continent and to a Russian sloop-of-war that served during the nineteenth century. Indeed, the lake is firmly in Russian territory. Directly above it is Vostok Station, which, from the air, resembles cardboard scraps buried in lint. The lowest natural temperature ever recorded was recorded at Vostok Station: -129° Fahrenheit, -89° Centigrade. I'll leave you alone with that for a minute.
The notion of sub-glacial lakes on Antarctica is not new. Scientist Peter Kropotkin brought the idea up at the end of the nineteenth century, drawing on the knowledge that a) pressurizing a fluid decreses its melting point, and b) glaciers weigh a whole bunch. Still, it wasn't until the 1960s that reserchers at Vostok Station took the step of directing seismic waves into the ice. I.A. Zotikov made a Ph.D. thesis of Kropotkin's musings in 1967.
Confirmation that there was, indeed, an emormous lake under the ice came in the 1970s, when an airborne radar mapping project conducted jointly by the United States and Denmark revealed flat reflections under the ice. That Lake Vostok is, more precisely, near the size of Lake Ontario was discovered by the European ERS-1 satellite in 1996.
The island in the middle of the lake was discovered in 2005.
60 million years ago Antarctica supported marsupials and rainforest. It was connected to Africa and Australia, and experienced a tropical to subtropical climate. The basin that contains Lake Vostok is part of a continental collision zone, bracketed on the west by the Gumbertsev Mountain Range, the entirety of which is now under ice. The Gumbertsev Mountain Range is one billion years old. As Antarctica drifted south, it grew glaciers.
Lake Vostok is an extreme-enough environment to cause chemistry to do, how you say, shenanigans.
Because the lake is pressurized to 5100psi, oxygen and nitrogen are dissolved in its water in quantities fifty times that in typical freshwater lakes. The gas also concentrates at the lakes's bottom as calthrates--icy, cage-like structures that look like snow.
The lake is oligotrophic, meaning with little nutrient. The lack of sunlight contributes to this. Relatedly, it is calculated that the water's mean residence time--how long it occupies liquid form in the lake before and after freezing--is some 13,000 years.
The lake has tides; the sun and moon cause the water level to fluctuate about a centimeter.
Evidence of bacteria and fungi in the ice above the lake first presented in 1999. This, along with Lake Vostok's unique geological history, lifted hopes that the lake contained a unique ecosystem.
When the lake was breached, pressurized water welled into the borehole and flash-froze.
The drilling of ice cores is not a sterile process. The Russian science team in particular earns much criticism for pumping vast amounts of freon and kerosene into boreholes to keep them open. Indeed, samples recently taken from the lake disclose one part kerosene per 100 parts water. It was assumed, then, that the first unknown species to appear on the end of the drill bit was a contaminant using kerosene as an energy source.
And then they did metagenomics.
Metagenomics is not a new technique; it's a reliable way to group the species of microbes in soil, among other places. It involves sequencing all the genetic material you have and then applying statistics. In March 2014, reserchers sequenced all the genetic material in all their samples of Lake Vostok water and applied statistics.
DNA does not fossilize well, nor does RNA. It is not possible that fossil bacteria in Lake Vostok would contain either nucleic acid. The 3500+ new species sieved out so far by metagenomics contain both.
Seized/Evangelized By Foilhats
On the lake's east coast is a one microtesla magnetic anomaly, most likely caused by a thin spot in the Earth's crust. Google "Tesla free energy." Get deep. I'll wait.
You're now prepared for the earnest notion that the magnetic anomaly is actually the vestige of an American reserch station, in the same Rube-Goldberg-device-designed-for-world-domination vein as HAARP and Agenda 21. There exists no motive, means, nor evidence for such a thing.
Also posited is that Lake Vostok is the last stronghold of prehistoric civilization. It is not.
Extreme Tech. "3500+ Species Discovered in Lake Vostok, Underneath Miles of Ice, in Conditions Similar to Jupiter's Europa."
NBC News. "Antarctica's Lake Vostok Found to Teem With Life."
Wikipedia. "Lake Vostok."
LiveScience. "What is Lake Vostok?"
Michael Studinger. "Subglacial Lake Vostok."
Buzzle. "Interesting Facts About Lake Vostok."