Tag: Antarctic ice sheet

Runaway Antarctica

Do you hear the turnstile about to click!

Not so long ago I wrote a series of three posts under the titles of Interconnections One, Interconnections Two and, yes you guessed it 😉 , Interconnections Three. They were about the consequences of rising sea levels.

Now one might argue that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Learning from Dogs but I would disagree. For as I declare in The Vision of this blog:

It seems to me that a Vision statement should encapsulate just why the owners of the enterprise are committed to that venture.  The author of Learning from Dogs is committed to this project; here is the Vision.

Our children require a world that understands the importance of faith, integrity and honesty

Learning from Dogs will serve as a reminder of the values of life and the power of unconditional love – as so many, many dogs prove each and every day

Constantly trying to get to the truth …

The power of greater self-awareness and faith; faith that the only way forward for us is through the truth …

For in a very real and devastating way even a small rise in global sea level is going to cause tens of thousands of dogs, and their loving owners, to become homeless. We are long overdue a commitment from our global leaders and power-brokers to that, “.. faith, integrity and honesty.”

However, championing that greater self-awareness is what blogger Patrice Ayme does almost all of the time. With his kind permission, I republish his latest post on the state of the Antarctic Ice.

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Runaway Antarctica

I have written for years that a runaway Antarctica was certain, with half the icy continent melting rather spectacularly on an horizon of two centuries at most, and probably much less than that. This rested on the fact that half of Antarctica rests on nothing but bedrock at the bottom of the sea. At the bottom of what should naturally be the sea, in the present circumstances of significant greenhouse gas concentrations.

Visualize this: until sometimes in the Nineteenth Century, GreenHouse Gas (GHG) concentration was 280 ppm (280 parts per million), including the man-made sort. Now we are close to 500 ppm, using a variety of exotic gases we produce industrially, among them, CO2. In CO2 alone we are at:  Week beginning on March 20, 2016: 405.62 ppm. Weekly value from 1 year ago: 401.43 ppm. Weekly value from 10 years ago: 382.76 ppm. So the CO2 alone is augmenting at a bit more than 1% a year. Thus we will be at an equivalent of 550 ppm in ten years (including the full panoply of all the other man-made greenhouse gases, not just CO2). There is evidence that, with just 400 ppm, disaster is guaranteed.

Now visualize this:

antarctica-truth-revealed-nyt-2016-450
How Antarctica would appear if its ice melted: it’s half under the sea.

Why so watery? Because the enormous glaciers, up to nearly 5,000 meter thick, press down on the continent with their enormous weight. Since the end of the last glaciation, 10,000 years ago, Scandinavia has been rising, and is still rising (I long used a picture with a similar information about Antarctica’s bedrock.)

A paper published on line in Nature on March 30, 2016, that is, two days ago, “Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise” opines that:

Polar temperatures over the last several million years have, at times, been slightly warmer than today, yet global mean sea level has been 6–9 metres higher as recently as the Last Interglacial (130,000 to 115,000 years ago) and possibly higher during the Pliocene epoch (about three million years ago). In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability. Here we use a model coupling ice sheet and climate dynamics—including previously underappreciated processes linking atmospheric warming with hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs—that is calibrated against Pliocene and Last Interglacial sea-level estimates and applied to future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if emissions continue unabated. In this case atmospheric warming will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss, but prolonged ocean warming will delay its recovery for thousands of years.

Notice that the scenario evoked in the last sentence is different from my  very old scenario, which is similar to the one advanced in November 2015 by the famous Hansen and Al. (I raised the alarm before Hansen, at least seven years ago). In my scenario, and Hansen’s the ice sheets melt from below, due to warm sea water intrusion.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is larger than Mexico.

Here is a taste of the paper (I have a Nature subscription):

“Reconstructions of the global mean sea level (GMSL) during past warm climate intervals including the Pliocene (about three million years ago)1 and late Pleistocene interglacials2, 3, 4, 5 imply that the Antarctic ice sheet has considerable sensitivity. Pliocene atmospheric CO2 concentrations were comparable to today’s (~400 parts per million by volume, p.p.m.v.)6, but some sea-level reconstructions are 10–30 m higher1, 7. In addition to the loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS)2, these high sea levels require the partial retreat of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which is further supported by sedimentary evidence from the Antarctic margin8. During the more recent Last Interglacial (LIG, 130,000 to 115,000 years ago), GMSL was 6–9.3 m higher than it is today2, 3, 4, at a time when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were below 280 p.p.m.v. (ref. 9) and global mean temperatures were only about 0–2 °C warmer10. This requires a substantial sea-level contribution from Antarctica of 3.6–7.4 m in addition to an estimated 1.5–2 m from Greenland11, 12 and around 0.4 m from ocean steric effects10.”

So notice: when CO2 ppm per volume was at 280 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, sea level was up to ten meter higher than now. And now we are at 500 ppmv…

And notice again: When CO2 ppmv was at 400, sea level was up to 30 meters (100 feet) higher than today. And now we are at 500 ppm, and, in a blink, in ten years, at 550 ppm.

Here is another example from the paper. I said all of this before, but to have scientists paid to do research in this area write it black on white in the world’s most prestigious scientific magazine, will no doubt endow me with greater, and much desired, gravitas. So let me indulge, not so much for my greater glory, but because it should help taking what I have long said more seriously.

“Much of the WAIS sits on bedrock hundreds to thousands of metres below sea level (Fig. 1a)13. Today, extensive floating ice shelves in the Ross and Weddell Seas, and smaller ice shelves and ice tongues in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas (Fig. 1b) provide buttressing that impedes the seaward flow of ice and stabilizes marine grounding zones (Fig. 2a). Despite their thickness (typically about 1 km near the grounding line to a few hundred metres at the calving front), a warming ocean has the potential to quickly erode ice shelves from below, at rates exceeding 10 m yr−1 °C−1 (ref. 14). Ice-shelf thinning and reduced backstress enhance seaward ice flow, grounding-zone thinning, and retreat (Fig. 2b). Because the flux of ice across the grounding line increases strongly as a function of its thickness15, initial retreat onto a reverse-sloping bed (where the bed deepens and the ice thickens upstream) can trigger a runaway Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI; Fig. 2c)15, 16, 17. Many WAIS grounding zones sit precariously on the edge of such reverse-sloped beds, but the EAIS also contains deep subglacial basins with reverse-sloping, marine-terminating outlet troughs up to 1,500 m deep (Fig. 1). The ice above floatation in these East Antarctic basins is much thicker than in West Antarctica, with the potential to raise GMSL by around 20 m if the ice in those basins is lost13. Importantly, previous ice-sheet simulations accounting for migrating grounding lines and MISI dynamics have shown the potential for repeated WAIS retreats and readvances over the past few million years18, but could only account for GMSL rises of about 1 m during the LIG and 7 m in the warm Pliocene, which are substantially smaller than geological estimates.”

I said it before. Including the details. So the evidence was clear, and out there. The optimism (it will take 5 centuries for 50 feet of sea level rise) is not supported by evidence. Actually collapsing channels coming from inverted rivers running up on the bellies of ice sheets are now obvious on satellite pictures and collapse of major ice shelves is going to be a matter of years, not centuries.

But science is made by tribes and these tribes honor the gods (of plutocracy) who finance them, and their whims. So they don’t want to make their sponsors feel bad. So they say unsupported, optimistic stuff, contradicted by a first order analysis.

Science is good, metascience, better. Metascience includes the sociological reasons which explain why some scientists will take some “facts” for obvious (although, coming from another sociology, they are not).

Deep in the Nature paper, in the quote above, or in four drawings and graphs of future sea level rise, one can find projections according to what various models “predict”… 130,000 years ago (!) The “Old Physics” model predicts one meter rise of the sea (this is the official UN maximal prediction for 2100). The new model, again starting with the present conditions, predict more than a six meter rise (!) This is a case of metascience playing with sea level.

This way, the authors of the paper will be able to say, one day: we told you so. While at the same time not irritating their sponsors now (because to understand what they are really saying takes quite a while, and has to be understood as tongue in cheek, when they pretend to apply the analysis to 130,000 years ago… What they really mean is six meters now, not just one meter… Bye bye Wall Street. Punished by its own instruments…)

The question is not whether we will be able to avoid a twenty meter sea level rise: that’s, unbelievably, a given (barring unforeseeable, yet imaginable technological advances to extract quickly a lot of CO2 from the atmosphere). The question is whether we will avoid a 60 meter rise.

Patrice Ayme’

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Let me add a footnote.

Namely, that on Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog on Saturday was an item under the heading of A Wake-Up Call on Climate Change and Clean Energy.

By Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director, INET Oxford. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

A stark warning from Institute researchers on the probability that ‘2°C capital stock’ will be reached in 2017

A new study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and the Smith School for Enterprise and Environment, University of Oxford, shows that we are uncomfortably close to the point where the world’s energy system commits the planet to exceeding 2°C.

In the paper, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Energy, the authors calculate the Two degree capital stock – the global stock of electricity infrastructure from which future emissions have a 50% probability of staying within 2°C of warming. The researchers estimate that the world will reach Two degree capital stock next year, in 2017.

Read the full item here.

It’s enough to make us all feel angry and hopeless. That would be understandable but wrong.

Go and read my Inconnections Three for within that post is this:

Want to fight climate change? Here are the 7 critical life changes you should make.

For the sake of millions of us and our wonderful pets stay with it and demand change from our politicians and leaders in every way that you can.

The most beautiful dagger of them all!

This is the wake-up call that we humans simply can’t afford to sleep through.

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This stunningly beautiful image is of an Antarctic iceberg, with a cavity. It belies the power of ice to destroy the world that we currently experience, and that “we” is not just humans but vast tracts of nature and, of course, our dogs.

So what has got “my knickers in a twist“? Answer: A reminder that the potential melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is a real and tangible threat; something that mankind has understand within the next few years.

First, let me share some of the material from the website of Antarctic Glaciers.

Ice shelves, icebergs and sea ice

Ice shelves

An ice shelf is a floating extension of land ice. The Antarctic continent is surrounded by ice shelves. They cover >1.561 million km2 (an area the size of Greenland)[1], fringing 75% of Antarctica’s coastline, covering 11% of its total area and receiving 20% of its snow.

The difference between sea ice and ice shelves is that sea ice is free-floating; the sea freezes and unfreezes each year, whereas ice shelves are firmly attached to the land. Sea ice contains icebergs, thin sea ice and thicker multi-year sea ice (frozen sea water that has survived several summer melt seasons, getting thicker as more ice is added each winter).

You can see the flat, floating ice shelf is almost featureless.
You can see this flat, floating ice shelf is almost featureless.

With this in mind, let me turn now to a recent post from Patrice Ayme in which he spells out very clearly the metaphorical dagger hanging above all our heads.

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Ice Sheets Melt: Academics Waking Up; New York Times In Denial

There has never been a more important moral, philosophical, military, civilizational, psychological, sociological and economic issue than the concerted holocaust of the biosphere by Homo Sapiens, presently passing one tipping point after another. Thus I will not present excuses for keeping abreast of any advance in understanding in the field. Even if it is just to confirm what I have long said.

The first scientific paper including computerized models of ice sheets melt predicts the obvious: if we burn all PROVEN fossil fuels reserves, ice will completely melt, all over Earth. Yet it is a big surprise to most scientists

This is humanity as a geologic force,” said Ken Caldeira, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, an author of the paper. “We’re not a subtle influence on the climate system – we are really hitting it with a hammer.”

Nice to read. Nietzsche was doing philosophy with a hammer, we went further: we are doing climate with a hammer. Hopefully, it will crack soon: nothing like a great catastrophe to bring further fascism. Nihilism is bad thing, naivety, even worse. To please the powers that be, and thus to be taken seriously, serious climate scientists have made unwarranted, profoundly unscientific, over-optimistic declarations about the ice sheets. Now their time is up. In truth the GreenHouse emissions are completely out of control, and still increasing… At a geological scale, every year:

global_greenhouse_gas_emissions
50 Gigatons Per Year: This GreenHouse Is Bigger Than CO2 Alone.

I didn’t expect it would go so fast,” Dr. Caldeira said. “To melt all of Antarctica, I thought it would take something like 10,000 years.” Didn’t they all. Why? Because only then would one be invited at the White House. Thinking correctly means, first, to think in a way that pleases those with power.

“Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet” [Ricarda Winkelmann, Anders Levermann, Andy Ridgwell,, Ken Caldeira]:

“The Antarctic Ice Sheet stores water equivalent to 58 meters in global sea-level rise. We show in simulations using the Parallel Ice Sheet Model that burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the ice sheet. With cumulative fossil fuel emissions of 10,000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC), Antarctica is projected to become almost ice-free with an average contribution to sea-level rise exceeding 3 m per century during the first millennium. Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable with 600 to 800 GtC of additional carbon emissions. Beyond this additional carbon release, the destabilization of ice basins in both West and East Antarctica results in a threshold increase in global sea level. Unabated carbon emissions thus threaten the Antarctic Ice Sheet in its entirety with associated sea-level rise that far exceeds that of all other possible sources.”

The famous Doctor Hansen and his collaborators upset the establishment two months ago by predicting a rise of three meters within 85 years (they use the reasoning I have used before, namely that paleontological data show sea level rise of 5 to 9 meters, with a rise of just one degree Celsius; actually the reasoning was obvious since 2009, when I pointed out that “2C Is Too Much“). The new paper potentially confirms Hansen’s findings. As I said, the new paper tries to NOT upset the powers that be (differently from yours truly, who view most individuals and institutions in power more than suspiciously, and it shows). Thus, one has to read between the lines to deduce that, from the paper itself, interpreting it optimistically is completely unwarranted.

The paper says: “Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable with 600 to 800 GtC of additional carbon emissions.” Hmm… Let’s see, how long would that take, at the present increasing rate? Now emissions of CO2 itself are around 35 Gt, per year. That’s a number often brandished, but, left at that, it’s disinformation. With other GreenHouse Gases, we are at 50 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent emission, per year. Sorry for taxing the mathematical capabilities of our great leaders: 12 x 50 = 600. This fits perfectly my “Ten Years To Catastrophe” essay. Thus, the West and EAST Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable in TWELVE YEARS (according to this paper; I obtained the same rough estimate with a paleoclimate approach).

The United Nations has said that the rise of the sea would not likely exceed three feet in this century. Some island nations will be wiped out (oops). Yet experts officially hope that major cities could be protected from it, in the richest countries that is (re-oops), though at a cost in the trillions of dollars (contemplate the enormous works to protect London or Venice).

The New York Times mentioned the paper above, which say the ice sheets will start melting irreversibly within a decade, to argue, in Politically Correct fashion, that ice sheets respond slowly enough to changes in the climate that it simply takes longer than a century for large-scale melting to begin. As if that notion was in the paper. It is not. Far from it. As I have argued before, that notion is ridiculous.

Indeed, warm water will rush below the ice sheets in West Antarctica, and East Antarctica’s immense Wilkes and Aurora subglacial basins.

antarctica-subglacial-basins
Subglacial Basins Are The Achilles’ Heel Of The Biosphere.

{WAIS = West Antarctica Ice Shelf; WB = Wilkes Basin; AB = Aurora Basin.]

Yet from that (tipping) point on, the paper found that thereafter, the sea would rise at the rate at a foot per decade, ten times faster than now, the New York Times admitted.

However the real text is much more alarming. Here is an extract:

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is severely affected by high carbon emissions through both the marine ice-sheet instability and surface elevation feedbacks. On the time scale of millennia, large parts of the ice sheet melt or drain into the ocean, raising global sea level by several tens of meters. Most of the ice loss occurs within the first millennium, leading to high rates of sea-level rise during this period (Fig. 3; for more details, see also fig. S6). Our simulations show that cumulative emissions of 500 GtC commit us to long-term sea-level rise from Antarctica of 1.15 m within the next millenium, which is consistent with the sensitivity of 1.2 m/°C derived with a different ice-sheet model (33, 34). Paleo data suggest that similar rates of sea-level rise have occurred during past warm periods (35). If the 2°C target, corresponding to about 600 GtC of additional carbon release compared to year 2010, were attained, the millennial sea-level rise from Antarctica could likely be restricted to 2 m. In our simulations, this would keep the ice sheet below the threshold for the collapse of the Wilkes Basin. However, if that threshold is crossed, the Antarctic ice cover is significantly reduced in thickness and area (Fig. 4). If we were to release all currently attainable fossil fuel resources, Antarctica would become almost ice-free. It is unclear whether this dynamic discharge would be reversible and, if so, on which time scales.”

As I already said, since 2010, we have added another 230 Gigatons. So we are within eight year of the Wilkes ice sheet, the largest in the world, to become unstable. The paper admitted that about half the Antarctic ice sheet would melt or fall into the sea in the first thousand years.”

The New York Times’ interpretation that it will take nearly a century for dramatic melting to start was obviously tainted. It is just driven by political Machiavellianism: let’s admit there is climate “change” just as there is sea level “change”, and misinform about the unfolding catastrophe (although Main Stream Media had to recently admit the snow pack in California last April was the lowest in at least 500 years). How do I know this? The scientific paper used computerized models of the huge ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland. It is the first paper to do so. Yet, according to the biased New York Times, it would have found exactly what the UN found, during this century… Although the UN did not incorporate the ice sheet melt models.

Once the ice sheet melting is incorporated, faster melting ought to have been predicted, for THIS century. However that grim prediction would have upset the powers that be. We don’t want that to happen. Now that they have the drone habit, killing throngs of people they know nothing about, who knows what’s coming next if one disparages them? Beheading and crucifixion at the most esteemed Saudi plutocracy?

For plutocrats, the Saudis are a model of Human Rights: thus they elected them to head the UN panel on Human Rights. And ice sheet melting is perfect: all great catastrophes call onto what Obama calls “leaders” (our masters). If a bit of engineered inflation could bring Hitler, imagine what an inflating ocean can bring! A great future for the few who rule us, tax free.

Patrice Ayme’

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Let me close with two pictures:

sea-ice
That is a very great deal of water locked up in that ice!

and this one that shows how at least one would have a wonderful view of the sea from your room at the Boston Harbour Hotel!

The dagger has fallen!
The dagger has fallen!

 Interesting times!

And human madness!

Reality will intrude whatever we believe.

Fitting in very neatly with yesterday’s post And human wisdom?, on Tuesday evening Jean and I sat down after dinner and watched a documentary film that was available on the website Top Documentary Films. It was called Our Rising Oceans and was introduced, thus:

In the opening moments of Our Rising Oceans we learn that global catastrophe lies beneath the awe-inspiring pale blue skies and ghostly white icescapes of West Antarctica. The scientific data regarding the effects of climate change on the ongoing process of glacial melting is overwhelming. Yet according to the many subjects featured in the film, a staggering percentage of the public remains doubtful, and our politicians and other policy influencers remain hesitant to act due to ill-informed skepticism and corporate interests.

In response to those naysayers, VICE founder and host Shane Smith ventures to the epicenter of the crisis to discover firsthand the science by which these changes are being observed, and the dire consequences of inaction.

Antarctica is starting to melt,” warns expert glaciologist Dr. Eric Rignot. Over the past twenty years, Dr. Rignot has analyzed reams of carefully procured data, and his discoveries indicate a rapidly deteriorating environment which could forever alter the fate of mankind. Here, in the midst of the Antarctic plains, wind is circulating at an unprecedented rate and pushing warm waters underneath the massive sheets of ice. This dynamic effectively melts these sheets from the bottom up, and has a profoundly distressing impact on rising sea levels.

Over the course of the film, Dr. Rignot is joined by a host of additional scientists who dedicate their lives to bearing witness to these calamitous changes, and pursuing solutions against the opposition of politicized stagnation. But even in the absence of this opposition, the disastrous effects of climate change may be too far gone to rectify. Dr. Rignot contends that even the strictest emission regulations cannot reverse the tides of a redefining global landscape. Others testify that additional environmental protection policies may slow the process, but will by no means guarantee the sustainability of future generations.

But even the slivers of hope which do exist seem impossible to realize given the gridlock of governmental leadership within the United States, as its representatives remain sharply divided on the mere existence of climate change. “I think it’s almost like denying gravity now,” says Vice President Joe Biden in an interview which closes the film. Our Rising Oceans paints a powerful portrait of a planet on the brink of ruin, and the political dysfunction which continues to push it over the edge.

Now in that opening paragraph I deliberately used the expression “was available” because when I came to check that the video, a YouTube video, was available, I received a “This video is private.” message.

So all I can do is to offer you the link to the Top Documentary Film page for Our Rising Oceans and hope that you are able to freely watch the full documentary. The link is here.

The documentary was scary and only confirmed the truth of what Jean and I instinctively felt – that unless those who lead and comprise all the governments of the free world react to the truth of where this planet is heading, and react soon, then the next great extinction is guaranteed. The first great extinction that is man-made!

If for whatever reason the video is unavailable to you then, at least, do watch the trailer.

For if we, as in humanity, turn a blind eye to this then reality will have a way of reminding us of what science already knows: significant sea-level rises are guaranteed.

Here’s a recent item from the Washington Post.

A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.

The findings about East Antarctica emerge from a new paper just out in Nature Geoscience by an international team of scientists representing the United States, Britain, France and Australia. They flew a number of research flights over the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica — the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet — and took a variety of measurements to try to figure out the reasons behind its retreat. And the news wasn’t good: It appears that Totten, too, is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it.

Read the full piece here.

Welcome to the new world!

Storm surge on a Louisiana highway shows the affects of rising sea levels. (Credit: NOAA)
Storm surge on a Louisiana highway shows the affects of rising sea levels. (Credit: NOAA)

Once again, I’m going to be predictable in saying that our dogs wouldn’t be as half as mad as to deny the truth of what man is doing to our planet!

The Lost World of Lake Vostok

A breath-taking film from the BBC Horizon series about a vast hidden lake under the Antarctic ice sheet.

My apologies for putting very little effort into today’s Post.  It’s because Jean and I will be in Phoenix for much of Tuesday (I’m writing this on Monday, 7th!) and it felt easier on me to drop this in for your elucidation than try and write something in a scrabble on Tuesday evenning.

Jean and I watched this last week-end and, …. well just watch it!

It sometimes seems as if our planet has no secrets left – but deep beneath the great Antarctic ice sheet scientists have made an astonishing discovery. They’ve found one of the largest lakes in the world. It’s very existence defies belief. Scientists are desperate to get into the lake because its extreme environment may be home to unique flora and fauna, never seen before, and NASA are excited by what it could teach us about extraterrestrial life. But 4 kilometers of ice stand between the lake and the surface, and breaking this seal without contaminating the most pristine body of water on the planet is possibly one of the greatest challenges science faces in the 21st century.

In 1957 the Russians established a remote base in Antarctica – the Vostok station. It soon became a byword for hardship – dependent on an epic annual 1000km tractor journey from the coast for its supplies. The coldest temperature ever found on Earth (-89°C) was recorded here on the 21st July 1983. It’s an unlikely setting for a lake of liquid water. But in the 1970’s a British team used airborne radar to see beneath the ice, mapping the mountainous land buried by the Antarctic ice sheet. Flying near the Vostok base their radar trace suddenly went flat. They guessed that the flat trace could only be from water. It was the first evidence that the ice could be hiding a great secret.

But 20 years passed before their suspicions were confirmed, when satellites finally revealed that there was an enormous lake under the Vostok base. It is one of the largest lakes in the world – at 10,000 square km it’s about the extent of Lake Ontario, but about twice as deep (500m in places). The theory was that it could only exist because the ice acts like a giant insulating blanket, trapping enough of the earth’s heat to melt the very bottom of the ice sheet.