Israel Iran War

Israel asks U.S. for arms that could aid Iran strike

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has asked the United States for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

“Such a request was made” around the time of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s visit to Washington this week, the official said, confirming media reports.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, played down as “unrealistic” reports that the United States would condition supplying the hardware on Israel promising not to attack Iran this year.

Netanyahu told Obama at a White House meeting on Monday that Israel had not yet decided on military action against Iran, sources close to the talks said.

Netanyahu has hinted that Israel could resort to force should Tehran – which denies suspicions that it is covertly trying to develop atomic bombs – continue to defy big powers’ diplomatic pressure to curb its nuclear program.

The risk of an Israeli-Iranian war troubles President Barack Obama, who is up for re-election in November and has cautioned against kindling more Middle East upheaval. A Gulf conflict could send oil prices rocketing upwards.

A front-page article in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv on Thursday said Obama had told Netanyahu that Washington would supply Israel with upgraded military equipment in return for assurances that there would be no attack on Iran in 2012.

Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal but its conventional firepower may not be enough to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-fortified facilities, many experts say.

Israel has limited stocks of older, smaller bunker-busters and a small fleet of refueling planes, all supplied by Washington.

Western powers suspect Iran’s uranium enrichment program is aimed at stockpiling fissile material for nuclear weapons. Iran says it is strictly for civilian energy uses.

http://news.yahoo.com/israel-asks-u-arms-could-aid-iran-strike-091024021.html

 

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United Nations, Iran and the Atomic Bomb

Top U.N. inspectors in Iran talks on atom bomb accusations

By Parisa Hafezi | Reuters

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Senior U.N. inspectors arrived in Iran on Monday to push for transparency about its disputed nuclear program and several European states halted purchases of Iranian oil as part of Western moves to pile pressure on a defiant Tehran.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is covertly seeking the means to build nuclear weapons and has again vowed no nuclear retreat in recent weeks, but also voiced willingness to resume negotiations with world powers without preconditions.

The five-member International Atomic Energy Agency team, led by chief IAEA inspector Herman Nackaerts, planned two days of meetings in another attempt to get answers from Iran regarding intelligence suggesting its declared civilian nuclear energy program is a facade for researching ways to make atom bombs.

Nackaerts said on departure from Vienna that he wanted “concrete results” from the talks. His delegation was expected to seek, among other things, to question Iranian nuclear scientists and visit the Parchin military base believed to have been used for high-explosive tests relevant to nuclear warheads.

But Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dampened speculation about increased IAEA access when he told the student news agency ISNA that the agency officials would not be going to any nuclear sites. “No. Their work has just begun,” Salehi said.

DIPLOMATIC IMPACT

Diplomats doubted that the talks would bring a breakthrough.

“I believe most are rather skeptical concerning the outcome because, well, Iran had a chance at the last meeting and didn’t seize it,” a senior Western official said, referring to the last trip by the senior IAEA team to Tehran at the end of January.

Referring to last week’s announcements by Iran of new nuclear advances, he said: “They send out the wrong signals that Iran is really willing to cooperate… We will wait and see what will come out of this meeting but we should be prepared that Iran might try some technical steps … to appear cooperative without really providing the necessary cooperation.”

The outcome of the discussions will have diplomatic repercussions because it could either deepen a stand-off that has stoked fears of war or provide scope to reduce tensions.

In a sign of Iranian concern about possible, last-resort air strikes by arch-enemies Israel or the United States, Tehran on Monday began a four-day military exercise in protecting its nuclear sites, according to Iranian media.

“(It) will practice coordination between the Revolutionary Guards and regular army and air defense units in establishing a defense umbrella over our vital centers, particularly nuclear facilities,” the labor news agency ILNA said.

The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to slap a boycott on its oil from July 1. On Monday, the European Commission said Belgium, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands had already stopped buying Iranian oil, while Greece, Spain and Italy were cutting back on their purchases.

In retaliation for oil sanctions, Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for a third of the world’s seaborne oil, and the United States signaled it would use force to keep it open.

On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced a retaliatory halt in oil sales to French and British companies, although that step will be largely symbolic as those firms had already greatly reduced purchases of Iranian crude.

The spiking tension over Iran’s nuclear activity, which Iranian officials say is solely for electricity generation, has put upward pressure on oil prices.

Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani suggested the Western crackdown would backfire, saying that in targeting Iranian oil the West had achieved only a surge in crude prices from $103 a barrel to $120, “and it will reach $150”.

In remarks carried by the official news agency IRNA on Monday, Qalebani also said that if other EU states continued “their hostile behavior towards Iran, we will cut our oil exports to those countries … Fortunately demand for Iran’s crude has not decreased. Instead it has increased.”

But the EU could cope with an abrupt halt by Iran of its oil exports as buyers of Iranian oil are already adjusting to the EU’s forthcoming ban on Iranian shipments, an International Energy Agency (IEA) official said on Monday.

China, in rare criticism of one of its major oil suppliers, rebuked Iran over the move to bar sales to Britain and France.

“We have consistently upheld dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes between countries, and do not approve of exerting pressure or using confrontation to resolve issues,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing when asked about the matter.

China buys around 20 percent of total Iranian oil exports.

Debt-ridden Greece is most exposed to Iranian crude disruption among EU countries. [ID:nL5E8DJ088]

MILITARY ACTION?

Iran says its nuclear program is wholly peaceful but its refusal to curb uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military ends, while shifting a key part of it to a remote mountain bunker protected from air strikes and continuing to restrict IAEA access, has raised suspicions. [ID:nL5E8D33E6]

The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to rein it in, and there has been intense public discussion in Israel about whether it should attack Iran to stop it “weaponizing” enrichment.

The top U.S. military officer said on Sunday that a military strike would be premature as it remained unclear whether Tehran would put its nuclear capabilities to developing a bomb, saying he believed the Tehran government was a “rational actor”. [ID:nL2E8DJ0IG]

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong said using force would be the wrong answer. “Attacking Iran militarily would only worsen the confrontation and lead to further upheaval in the region,” he said.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who also holds the intelligence portfolio, said the sanctions regime had been toughened to the point of causing “hysteria” in Iran.

“All this shows the pressure which this regime is under, but they have not yet decided to shut down their nuclear effort, so the struggle is on,” Meridor told reporters in Jerusalem. “I think there is a chance of success (for sanctions) if it they are done with determination, persistence and leadership.”

The West has expressed some optimism at the prospect of new talks with Tehran, particularly after it sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week promising to bring “new initiatives” to the table with six world powers without stating preconditions. [ID:nL2E8DH6UT]

“In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran’s current nuclear issue so that both sides win,” Iranian TV quoted Foreign Minister Salehi as saying on Sunday. The last round of talks collapsed in January last year.

Oil is a pillar part of Iran’s export revenues and an important lifeline for its increasingly isolated economy. Tehran has little refining capacity and must import about 40 percent of its gasoline needs for domestic consumption.

Tighter sanctions, combined with high inflation, have squeezed the ability of working-class Iranians to feed themselves and their families, and this uncertainty will cloud a parliamentary election on March 2.

“Everything’s become so expensive in the past few weeks,” said Marjan Hamidi, a shopper in Tehran. “But my husband’s income stays the same. How am I going to live like this?”

(Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Susan Cornwell in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/iran-halts-oil-sales-uk-france-eve-talks-030432361.html


Global Warming

Coal, not oilsands, the true climate change bad guy says study

By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press

One of the world’s top climate scientists has calculated that emissions from Alberta’s oilsands are unlikely to make a big difference to global warming and that the real threat to the planet comes from burning coal.

“I was surprised by the results of our analysis,” said Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate modeller, who has been a lead author on two reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “I thought it was larger than it was.”

In a commentary published Sunday in the prestigious journal Nature, Weaver and colleague Neil Swart analyze how burning all global stocks of coal, oil and natural gas would affect temperatures. Their analysis breaks out unconventional gas, such as undersea methane hydrates and shale gas produced by fracking, as well as unconventional oil sources including the oilsands.

They found that if all the hydrocarbons in the oilsands were mined and consumed, the carbon dioxide released would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. That’s about half the total amount of warming over the last century.

When only commercially viable oilsands deposits are considered, the temperature increase is only .03 degrees C.

In contrast, the paper concludes that burning all the globe’s vast coal deposits would create a 15-degree increase in temperature. Burning all the abundant natural gas would warm the planet by more than three degrees.

Governments around the world have agreed to try to keep warming to two degrees.

“The conventional and unconventional oil is not the problem with global warming,” Weaver said. “The problem is coal and unconventional natural gas.”

He said his analysis suggests it is an increased dependence on coal — not the oilsands — that governments have to worry about. As well, there’s so much gas in the world that it will also cause problems despite the fact it emits less carbon than oil.

“One might argue that the best strategy one might take is to use our oil reserves wisely, but at the same time use them in a way that weans us of our dependence on coal and natural gas,” Weaver said. “As we become more and more dependent on these massive reserves, we’re less and less likely to wean ourselves away from them.”

Burning all the oil in the world would only raise temperatures by less than one degree, the paper concludes.

Weaver’s analysis only accounts for emissions from burning the fuel. It doesn’t count greenhouse gases released by producing the resource because that would double-count those emissions.

He said his paper is an attempt to bring some perspective to the often-fraught debate over oilsands development, which continues to cause major concerns about the impact on land, air and water. And emissions from producing oilsands crude are making it very tough for Canada to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“We’ve heard a lot about how if we burn all the oil in the tarsands it’s going to lead to this, that and the other. We thought, ‘Well, let’s take a look at this. What is the warming potential of this area?’ and the numbers are what they are.”

He said the real message is that the world has to start limiting its use of fossil fuels.

“This idea that we’re going to somehow run out of coal and natural gas and fossil fuels is really misplaced. We’ll run out of human ability to live on the planet long before we run out of them.

“I have always said that the tarsands are a symptom of a very big problem. The problem is dependence on fossil fuels.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Neil Stewart.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/coal-not-oilsands-true-climate-change-bad-guy-184214482.html

 


Libya’s transitional leader declares liberation, sets Islamist tone for future

By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

BENGHAZI, LibyaLibya‘s transitional leader declared his country’s liberation on Sunday, three days after the hated dictator Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed.

He called on Libyans to show “patience, honesty and tolerance” and eschew hatred as they embark on rebuilding the country at the end of an 8-month civil war.

The transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil set out a vision for the post-Gadhafi future with an Islamist tint, saying that Islamic Sharia law would be the “basic source” of legislation in the country and that existing laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified. In a gesture that showed his own piety, he urged Libyans not to express their joy by firing in the air, but rather to chant “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great. He then stepped aside and knelt to offer a brief prayer of thanks.

“This revolution was looked after by God to achieve victory,” he told the crowd at the declaration ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gadhafi began. He thanked those who fell in the fight against Gadhafi’s forces. “This revolution began peacefully to demand the minimum of legitimate rights, but it was met by excessive violence.”

Abdul-Jalil said new banks would be set up to follow the Islamic banking system, which bans charging interest. For the time being, he said interest would be cancelled from any personal loans already taken out less than 10,000 Libyan dinars (about $7,500).

He also announced that all military personnel and civilians who have taken part in the fight against Gadhafi would be promoted to the rank above their existing one. He said a package of perks would later be announced for all fighters.

“Thank You, thank you to the fighters who achieved victory, both civilians and military,” he said. He also paid tribute to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation alliance led by Saudi Arabia, The Arab League and the European Union. NATO, which aided the anti-Gadhafi fighters with airstrikes, performed its task with “efficiency and professionalism.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/libyas-transitional-leader-declares-liberation-sets-islamist-tone-163539334.html


5 Ways the World Will Change Radically This Century

By Natalie Wolchover | LiveScience.com

In terms of evolution, the species Homo sapiens is extremely successful. The populations of other species that are positioned similar to us on the food chain tend to max out at about 20 million. We, by contrast, took just 120,000 years to achieve our first billion members, and then needed only another 206 years to add 6 billion more. According to the United Nations Population Division, our population will hit 7 billion on Oct. 31, and though fertility rates have begun to decline across much of the globe, we’re still projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century and level off at around 10 billion by 2100.

A panel of academics met at Columbia University’s Earth Institute on Monday (Oct. 17) to discuss the impacts of the human population explosion, including the ways in which it will change the face of the Earth this century. Here are five striking changes you — or your kids or grandkids — can expect to see.

Shifting people

Currently, it’s a well-known fact that China is the most populous country in the world, and that Africa, though riddled with problems, is not necessarily overpopulated considering its size. These facts will drastically change. China’s one-child policy has significantly curbed its growth, while in some African countries, the average woman gives birth to more than 7 children. [How Many People Can Earth Support?]

According to Joel Cohen, a population biologist at Columbia University and the keynote speaker at Monday’s conference, India’s population will overtake China’s around 2020, and sub-Saharan Africa’s will overtake India’s by 2040. Furthermore, “In 1950, there were three times as many Europeans as sub-Saharan Africans. By 2100, there will be five sub-Saharan Africans for every European. That’s a 15-fold change in the ratio,” Cohen said. “Could you imagine that that might have an impact, geopolitically and on international migration?”

Jean-Marie Guehenno, former UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said the migration of people from Africa to Europe will present a major challenge in the near future. “You can look at it as an enormous potential from a European standpoint … or you can say, ‘[Africa] is a continent that still has 15 percent that are not going to school,’ and that can be seen as a threat,” Guehenno said. “How are you going to manage that immigration so that this aging continent of Europe benefits from it while managing it? That is going to be a huge question.”

Urbanization

Globally, the number of people living in urban areas matched and then overtook the number of rural people sometime in the past two years. The trend will continue. According to Cohen, the number ofpeople living in cities will climb from 3.5 billion today to 6.3 billion by 2050. This rate of urbanization is equivalent to “the construction of a city of a million people every five days from now for the next 40 years,” he said.

Of course, new cities don’t tend to get constructed; instead, cities that already exist tend to balloon. Guehenno argues that megacities become chaotic. “Urbanization is going to change the face of conflict in a big way. When you live in small towns and rural areas, there are all sorts of traditional conflict- resolution mechanisms. They are not all nice, but they create a sort of stable equilibrium,” he said. “With the megacities that you see now in Africa, such as Monrovia (Liberia) and Kinshasa (Republic of Congo), we see cities where the dynamics are no more under control or have been lost. We are, I think, heading toward new types of conflicts — urban conflicts — and we haven’t really thought through the implications of that.”

Water wars

Not only has the human population exploded in the past two centuries, but the per-person consumption of resources — especially in industrialized nations — has grown exponentially. Scientists think that resource shortages will cause an escalation of conflicts during this century, and will widen the gulf between the rich and the poor — the haves and the have-nots.

No resource is more precious and vital than water, and, according to economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, there are already parts of the world that, because of the rapidly changing climate, are at a severe crisis point. “Take the Horn of Africa for example: Somalia’s population has risen roughly fivefold since the middle of the 20th century,” Sachs said. “Precipitation is down roughly 25 percent over the last quarter century. There’s a devastating famine under way right now after two years of complete failure of rains, and [there is] the potential that this is entering a period of long-term climate change.”

Conflicts over water shortages will probably play out as class warfare, said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center. “Wealth inequality tends to grow as a country’s population grows, and this is a very important point to note because per capita consumption of resources has been increasing dramatically. Couple that with inequity in income and couple that with [the issue of] the availability of water,” Lall said. [How Much Water Is On Earth?]

When you add it all up, you get this dire picture: As the population grows, there is less water per person. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and the rich demand more resources to accommodate their lifestyles. Inevitably, they will commandeer the water and other resources of the poor. In all likelihood, Lall said, this will lead to challenges, and perhaps class conflict.

Future energy

Currently, there isn’t enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. This means that humans will be forced to turn to a new energy source before the end of the century. However, it’s a mystery what that new source will be.

“Energy is the basic resource which underlies every other,” said Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. “And actually, technology is not quite ready to solve the [energy] problem. We know there’s plenty of energy in solar, in nuclear, in carbon itself — in fossil carbon — for probably 100 or 200 years (if we are willing to clean up after ourselves and pay the extra to make that happen). But none of these technologies are quite ready. Solar has its problems and is still too expensive.”

Carbon storage — a technology that prevents carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned — is still on the drawing board, though it looks possible, he added. “And lastly, nuclear energy: if we were betting on that, we may have just lost that one,” Lackner said, referring to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year.

“Let me just give you a feeling how big today our energy consumption is: In New Jersey, the energy consumption exceeds the photosynthetic productivity of the same area if it were left pristine,” Lackner said. “We have to have technology help us out. I am optimistic … that the technologies can be developed to solve these problems … but I am a pessimist because we lack the societal structures which would enable us to employ these technologies, and we could very well fall on our own faces.”

In short, the future will match one of these two pictures: Either some new, superior form of energy extraction (such as highly efficient solar panels) will be widespread, or the technology, or its implementation, will fail, and humanity will face a major energy crisis.

Mass extinctions

As humans spread, we leave scant room or resources for other species. “There is good evidence that we are in the sixth massive species extinction of the history of the planet, because of the incredible amount of primary production that we take as a species to maintain 7 billion of us,” Sachs said.

Aside from the lack of land and resources left for other species, we’ve also caused rapid changes to the global climate, with which many of them cannot cope. Some biologists believe that with the current rate of extinction, 75 percent of the planet’s species will disappear within the next 300 to 2,000 years. These disappearances have already begun, and extinction events will become more and more common over the course of the century. [10 Species Our Population Explosion Will Likely Kill Off]

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/5-ways-world-change-radically-century-145807574.html


Lake Vostok Images


Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok  is the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes found under the surface of Antarctica. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleoclimatic record of 400,000 years, although the lake water itself may have been isolated for 15 to 25 million years. The lake is named after the Vostok, the 900-ton corvette of Russian Antarctic pioneer Fabian von Bellingshausen.

Lake Vostok is located beneath Russia’s Vostok Station under the surface of the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is at 3488 metres (11,443.6 ft) above mean sea level. The surface of this fresh water lake is 4000 metres (13,123.4 ft) under the surface of the ice, which places it at 512 metres (1,679.8 ft) below sea level. Measuring 250 kilometres (155.3 mi) long by 50 kilometres (31.1 mi) wide at its widest point, Lake Vostok is similar in size to Lake Ontario. Lake Vostok covers an area of 15690 square kilometre. The average depth is 344 metres (1,128.6 ft). It has an estimated volume of 5400 cubic kilometres (1,295.5 cu mi). The lake is divided into two deep basins by a ridge. The liquid water over the ridge is about 200 metres (656.2 ft), compared to roughly 400 metres (1,312.3 ft) deep in the northern basin and 800 metres (2,624.7 ft) deep in the southern.

No water sample has been obtained yet.

Discovery

Russian scientist P.A. Kropotkin first proposed the idea of fresh water under Antarctic ice sheets at the end of the 19th century. He theorized that the tremendous pressure exerted by the cumulative mass of thousands of vertical meters of ice could increase the temperature at the lowest portions of the ice sheet to the point where the ice would melt. Kropotkin’s theory was further developed by Russian glaciologist I.A Zotikov, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on this subject in 1967. Russian scientist A.P. Kapitsa used seismic soundings in the region of Vostok Station in 1959 and 1964 to measure the thickness of the ice sheet.

When British scientists in Antarctica performed airborne ice-penetrating radar surveys in the early 1970s, they detected unusual radar readings at the site which suggested the presence of a liquid, freshwater lake below the ice. In 1991, Jeff Ridley, a remote sensing specialist with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London, directed theERS-1 satellite to turn its high-frequency array toward the center of the Antarctic ice cap. The data from ERS-1 confirmed the findings from the 1973 British surveys, but this new data was not published in the Journal of Glaciology until 1993. Space-based radar revealed that this subglacial body of fresh water was one of the largest lakes in the world—and one of some 140 subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Russian and British scientists delineated the lake in 1996 by integrating a variety of data, including airborne ice-penetrating radar imaging observations and space-based radar altimetry. It has been confirmed that the lake contains large amounts of liquid water under the more than 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) thick ice cap, promising to be the most unspoiled lake on Earth. The lake has at least 22 cavities of liquid water, averaging 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) each.

In 2005 an island was found in the central part of the lake. Then, in January 2006, the discovery of two nearby smaller lakes under the ice cap was published; they are named 90 Degrees East and Sovetskaya. It is suspected that these Antarctic subglacial lakes may be connected by a network of subterranean rivers. Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling glaciologists Duncan Wingham and Martin Siegert published in Nature in 2006 that many of the subglacial lakes of Antarctica are at least temporarily interconnected. Because of varying water pressure in individual lakes, large subsurface rivers may suddenly form and then force large amounts of water through the solid ice.

Geological History and Research 

Africa separated from Antarctica around 160 million years ago, followed by the Indian subcontinent, in the earlyCretaceous (about 125 million years ago). About 65 million years ago, Antarctica (then connected to Australia) still had atropical to subtropical climate, complete with marsupial fauna and an extensive temperate rainforest.

The Lake Vostok basin is a small (50 km wide) tectonic feature within the overall setting of a several hundred kilometer widecontinental collision zone between the Gamburtsev Mountain Range, a subglacial mountain range and the Dome C region. The lake water is cradled on a bed of sediments 70 metres (229.7 ft) thick, offering the possibility that they contain a unique record of the climate and life in Antarctica before the ice cap formed.

The lake water is believed to have been sealed off under the thick ice sheet about 15 million years ago. Initially, it was thought that the same water had made up the lake since the time of its formation, giving a residence time in the order of one million years. Later research by Robin Bell and Michael Studinger from the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University suggested that the water of the lake is continually freezing and being carried away by the motion of the Antarctic ice sheet, while being replaced by water melting from other parts of the ice sheet in these high pressure conditions. This resulted in an estimate that the entire volume of the lake is frozen and removed every 13,300 years—its effective mean residence time.

Drilling for sample cores was halted in 1998 at roughly 100 metres (328.1 ft). In November 2010, when the team came up with new, ecologically-safe methods of probing the lake without contamination; the scientists submitted a final environmental evaluation of the project to the Antarctic Treaty System‘s environmental protection committee and were given the go-ahead to sample the ancient waters. In January 2011 the head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, announced that his team had only 50 meters of ice left to drill in order to reach the water. The researchers then switched to a new thermal drill head with a “clean” silicone oil fluid to drill the rest of the way. Instead of drilling all the way into the water, they would stop just above it, when a sensor on the thermal drill detects free water. At that point, the drill will be stopped and extracted from the bore hole, thereby lowering the pressure beneath it and drawing water into the hole and left for quite some time to freeze, creating a plug of frozen ice in the bottom of the hole. Finally, next summer, the team would drill down again to take a sample of that ice and analyze it.

Drilling stopped on 5 February 2011 at a depth of 3720 metres (12,204.7 ft) so that the research team could make it off the ice and onto the last flight before the beginning of the Antarctic winter season. The drilling team left by aircraft on February 6 and will have to wait until the next austral summer begins in December 2011 to try again.

In the Antarctic summer of 2012–13, the Russian team also plans to send an underwater robot into the lake to collect water samples and sediments from the bottom. An environmental assessment of the plan will be submitted at the Antarctic Treaty’s consultative meeting in May 2012.

Temperature

It was at Vostok Station that the coldest temperature ever observed on Earth was recorded on 21 July 1983. The average water temperature is calculated to be around -3 °C; it remains liquid below the normal freezing point because of high pressure from the weight of the ice above it. Geothermal heat from the Earth’s interior warms the bottom of the lake. The ice sheet itself insulates the lake from cold temperatures on the surface.

Ice Core

Researchers working at Vostok Station produced one of the world’s longest ice cores in 1998. A joint Russian, French, and United States team drilled and analyzed the core, which is 3623 metres (11,886.5 ft) long. Ice samples from cores drilled close to the top of the lake have been assessed to be as old as 420,000 years, suggesting that the lake was sealed under the ice cap 15 million years ago. Drilling of the core was deliberately halted roughly 100 metres (328.1 ft) above the suspected boundary where the ice sheet and the liquid waters of the lake are thought to meet. This was to prevent contamination of the lake from the 60 ton column of freon and kerosene Russian scientists filled it with to prevent the borehole from collapsing and freezing over.

From this core, specifically from ice that is thought to have formed from lake water freezing onto the base of the ice sheet,extremophile microbes were found, suggesting that the lake water supports life. Scientists suggested that the lake could possess a unique habitat for ancient bacteria with an isolated microbial gene pool containing characteristics developed perhaps 500,000 years ago.

Oxygen Levels 

Lake Vostok is an oligotrophic extreme environment, one that is expected to be supersaturated with nitrogen and oxygen, measuring 2.5 liters of nitrogen and oxygen per 1 kilograms (2.2 lb) of water, that is 50 times higher than those typically found in ordinary freshwater lakes on Earth. The sheer weight and pressure (350 atmospheres) of the continental ice cap on top of Lake Vostok is believed to contribute to the high gas concentration.

Besides dissolving in the water, oxygen and other gases are trapped in a type of structure called a clathrate. In clathrate structures, gases are enclosed in an icy cage and look like packed snow. These structures form at the high-pressure depths of Lake Vostok and would become unstable if brought to the surface.

Tidal Forces

In April 2005, German, Russian, and Japanese researchers found that the lake has tides. Depending on the position of the Sun and the Moon, the surface of the lake rises about 12 millimeters.

Life

The lake is under complete darkness and expected to be rich in oxygen, so there is speculation that any organisms inhabiting the lake could have evolved in a manner unique to this environment. These adaptations to an oxygen-rich environment might include high concentrations of protective oxidative enzymes.

Living Hydrogenophilus thermoluteolus microorganisms have been found in Lake Vostok’s deep ice core drillings; they are an extant surface dwelling species. This suggests the presence of a deep biosphere utilizing a geothermal system of the bedrock encircling the subglacial lake. There is optimism that microbial life in the lake may be possible despite high pressure, constant cold, low nutrient input, potentially high oxygen concentration and an absence of sunlight.

Due to the lake’s similarity to Jupiter‘s moon Europa and Saturn‘s moon Enceladus, any confirmation of life living in Lake Vostok would strengthen the prospect for the possible presence of life on Europa or Enceladus.

Controversy

The drilling project was opposed by some environmental groups and scientists who argued that hot-water drilling would do less environmental damage. The Russians however complained that hot-water drilling required more power than they could generate at their remote camp. Scientists of the United States National Research Council have taken the position that it should be assumed that microbial life exists in Lake Vostok and that after such a long isolation, any life forms in the lake require strict protection from contamination. Sediments on its floor should give clues to its long-term climate, and isotopes in its water are expected to help geologists determine how and when subglacial lakes such as Lake Vostok form. However, meticulously documented decontamination procedures will be required to establish the credibility of the scientific data obtained.

The drilling technique employed thus far by the Russians has involved the use of freon and kerosene to lubricate the borehole and prevent it from collapsing and freezing over; 60 tons of these chemicals have been used thus far on the ice above Lake Vostok. Other countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have failed to persuade the Russians not to pierce to the lake until cleaner technologies such as hot-water drilling are available. Though the Russians claims to have improved their operations, they continue to use the same borehole, which has already been filled with kerosene. According to the head of Russian Antarctic Expeditions, Valery Lukin, the new equipment had been developed by researchers at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute that would ensure the lake remains uncontaminated upon intrusion. Lukin has repeatedly reassured other signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty System that the drilling will not affect the lake. He argues that on breakthrough, water will rush up the borehole, freeze, and seal the chemical fluids out.

The international scientific community however remains unconvinced by these arguments. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition argues that this is a profoundly misguided step, which endangers not only Lake Vostok itself, but could harm other subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which some scientists are convinced are inter-linked with Lake Vostok. This coalition asserts that “it would be far preferable to join with other countries to penetrate a smaller and more isolated lake, before re-examining whether penetration of Lake Vostok is environmentally defensible. If we are wise, the Lake
will be allowed to reveal its secrets in due course.”

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Lake_Vostok

Documentary

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-lost-world-of-lake-vostok/