A team of scientists, led by Professor Martin Siegert of Bristol University, is preparing to start their journey to Antarctica, where they will investigate the possibility of finding life forms in a subglacial lake. They will attempt to extract samples of water and sediment from the water by blasting a hole through a two mile-thick ice sheet.

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Lake Ellsworth is about 14 km long, 3 km wide and 160 m deep. Its pitch-black waters have remained isolated for up to half a million years. Despite high pressures and lack of sunlight, the scientists are expecting to find microbes.

The team will have to battle harsh weather conditions, as this part of Antarctica is notorious for low temperatures and almost constant winds. They will use a hot-water drill to make a hole in the ice and then extract water samples, while making sure that the equipment stays sterile throughout the process. Snow is shoveled into boilers, providing enough water for the drilling. The water is filtered to remove any microbes, then screened through ultra-violet light, heated to 90 degrees and finally passed into the drill to melt a way through the layer of ice.

The whole operation is predicted to last five days. Its first results should be known in about a week.