Institute of Petroleum Engineering

Centre for Gas Hydrate Research Publications



Abstract 068
Can Gas Hydrates Solve the Mysteries of Lake Vostok?
Anderson, R., Tohidi, B. and Motaghi, S.
4th International Conference on Gas Hydrates, Yokohama, Japan, 19-23 May (2002).
Buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet for a period likely to be in excess of 1 million years, subglacial Lake Vostok is arguably one of the most unique on Earth The lake may contain organisms that have evolved independently of the outside world, adapting to a cold, dark environment, with a limited supply of nutrients. The Lake is of particular interest in its perceived similarity to the environment of Jupiter's Moon, Europa. Europa's ice-covered surface may mask a liquid water ocean that could be home to living organisms, proving that life can exist on planets other than Earth. Lake Vostok provides a unique opportunity for the testing of a prototype interplanetary probe destined for Europa, which could ultimately reveal the presence of life outside Earth. However, technical difficulties, particularly relating to the dangers of contamination, have resulted in increasing delays, meaning it may be years before an attempt at penetration into the lake becomes a reality. Here, we propose an alternative approach, using current technology, which could reveal invaluable information about the lake and its environment, without requiring penetration. Limited modelling studies support the presence of clathrates in Lake Vostok, and remnant hydrate structures have been identified in core samples of lake ice accreted to the base of the overlying glacial ice sheet. Analysis and modelling of gases trapped within these clathrates could reveal important information regarding the environment of the Lake and the potential for life. In particular, stable isotope analysis of hydrate gases ( d18O,d13C) could reveal whether a viable community is present. During previous core recovery, non-pressured extraction methods resulted in the dissociation of hydrates and gas loss. In light of this, we propose the use of a pressure core sampler (PCS) for in-situ pressure core recovery of accreted lake ice and clathrates.

Reprints of this article are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (.pdf). You may request a reprint by submitting an email to the webmaster with the abstract number in the subject line. To read pdf files, you will require Adobe Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded for free at the Acrobat Reader Download Page

Submit requests to: ross.anderson@pet.hw.ac.uk