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Extreme Antarctica: Amazing Photos of Lake Ellsworth

Extreme Science

British Antarctic Survey scientists will drill into an Antarctic subglacial lake to look for microbial life.

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Researchers with the British Antarctic Survey have been planning for 16 years to drill a borehole into the ice atop this subglacial lake, a hole that will freeze back over within 24 hours. Shown here, a twin otter aircraft landing at Lake Ellsworth.

Field Equipment

British Antarctic Survey scientists will drill into an Antarctic subglacial lake to look for microbial life.

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Here, the twin otter aircraft delivering field equipment for the endeavor to look for life in Lake Ellsworth.

Living at the Extremes

Lake Ellsworth field site.

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Camping in the deep field, Lake Ellsworth, Antarctica. This is one of the most extreme and isolated locations on Earth with very cold temperatures (down to minus 13 Fahrenheit, or minus 25 Celsius) and high winds.

Lengthy Hose

lengthy hose for drilling into Lake Ellsworth

(Image credit: British Antarctic Survey)

The hot-water drill will be used to make a 1.9-mile (3-kilometer) borehole through the ice and into Lake Ellsworth. The hose is 2.1 miles (3.4 km) long; only two companies in the world could deliver a continuous hose of this length, both based in the U.K.

Seismic Survey

Lake Ellsworth field site

(Image credit: British Antarctic Survey)

Lake Ellsworth was mapped in detail by scientists using seismic survey techniques. They discovered a hidden lake 7.5 miles long, by 1.9 miles wide and 492 feet deep (12 km long, 3 km wide and 150 meters deep), roughly the same size and depth as Windermere in the U.K.

Sun Dogs

Sun halo over Antarctica's Lake Ellsworth

(Image credit: British Antarctic Survey)

Sun halos (also known as sun dogs) are seen as a ring of light on either side of the sun, as seen over the Lake Ellsworth field camp. They are formed by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

Amazing Antarctic Peaks

The Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

The Ellsworth Mountain Range is home to Antarctica's tallest peaks, with the highest-mountain distinction going to Mt. Vinson, which rises to an elevation of 16,860 feet above sea level.

Surrounded By Mountains

The Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

The Ellsworth Mountains (shown in the background here with the drilling site in the foreground) stretch some 200 miles (322 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) wide. They are located at the base of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Hidden Lakes

Lake Ellsworth field site

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Lake Ellsworth, on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is one of 387 known subglacial lakes in Antarctica. The Ellsworth Mountains are shown in the background behind the field site.

Location, Location

Lake Ellsworth field site

(Image credit: Neil Ross/University of Edinburgh)

Scientists endure staggeringly chilled conditions when working in the deep field at Lake Ellsworth, with a scientist shown here at a GPS station.