Three nations agree to share ice core thatmay yield clues about nature of Lake Vostok

May 28, 2002

Scientists from the United States, France and Russia will equally share samples of an 11.7-meter (38.5-foot) ice core taken from the ice sheet above Lake Vostok, deep in the Antarctic interior, under the terms of an agreement worked out among representatives of the nations' Antarctic research programs.

Glaciologists, geochemists and biologists will use the lower portions of the Vostok ice core, which was drilled in 1998, to learn more about the subglacial lake known to exist under the ice at Russia's Vostok Station, high on the polar plateau. Joint investigative protocols will allow scientists to explore some intriguing questions about the lake while insuring the compatibility and consistency of individual investigations.

Major questions that will provide the framework for future research on the ice core include: How is the ice formed and what is its age? What does the geochemistry of the ice reveal about the lake and its origin? What kinds of organisms are present in the lake and how did they get there?

The agreement was reached at a meeting of U.S., French and Russian scientists held in April at the National Science Foundation (NSF) headquarters in Arlington, Va. Participants included the directors of the U.S., French and Russian Antarctic programs as well as scientists and program managers who support or conduct research on the Vostok ice core.

NSF funds and manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which supports almost all U.S. research on the continent and in surrounding waters.

The ice samples were drilled at Vostok Station under the terms of a U.S., French and Russian scientific collaboration that has made important contributions to the understanding the last 420,000 years of the Earth's climate. Research on these samples has delivered valuable insights for understanding the forces that drive climate change.

The samples governed by the agreement were left at Vostok Station until the 2001-2002 austral summer, when arrangements were made to bring out some of the remaining ice from a storage trench. They represent roughly the bottom 12 meters of the ice core and are thought to have formed from accretion, the process by which water from the lake freezes onto the base of the ice sheet. This ice is different from the core that provided the Vostok climate record.

A plan developed at the NSF meeting will allow the three nations to cooperate and share the samples in such a way as to maximize the scientific return and ensure an accurate comparison of results.

Most notably, participants devised a plan to use a piece of the accretion ice for comparative study of ice-decontamination methods for biological studies. This procedure will ensure that research results obtained in different laboratories can be compared without undue concern about sample contamination.

Existing collaborations between French and Russians scientists and among U.S. scientists will continue and will allow analyses of the shared core to begin in the very near future.

Scientists from the U.S., France, and Russia will continue to examine the ice after a review of research proposals submitted to the nations' Antarctic programs. Plans for a future subglacial lake exploration and research are scheduled for discussion at an upcoming meeting in Shanghai, China in July.

A four-person panel of researchers from the U.S., France and Russia is scheduled to discuss recent research conducted at Lake Vostok during a press conference at 3 p.m. EDT on May 28 as part of the spring meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington D.C.

NSF will webcast the press conference at: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/02/lvostok.htm
-end-
Program Contacts:
Julie Palais
(703) 292-8030/jpalais@nsf.gov
Polly Penhale
(703) 292-8030/ppenhale@nsf.gov

National Science Foundation

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