The expedition included one planeload and several snow-tractor loads of equipment that would be used to drill down to the subglacial lake, more than 3,500 feet (1068 m) below the surface. [Read more about the Lake Mercer expedition]
The drill team reached the lake faster than expected on Dec. 26, 2018, three days after they began drilling.
Equipment problems meant the ice cores had to be abandoned, but the expedition was able to achieve the harder tasks of sampling the lake water and taking sediment cores from the lake floor.
The waters of the lake are a fraction of a degree above the freezing point and about 49 feet (15 m) deep.
Lots of hidden lakes
Lake Mercer empties by underground rivers into the region of the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica.
The largest is Lake Vostock, in East Antarctica, which lies below more than 13,100 feet (4,000 m) of ice and is about 3,280 feet (1,000 m) deep.
West Antarctic ice sheet
The researchers have also discovered that the deep, dark waters of subglacial Lake Mercer are teeming with bacterial life.
The call will be examined for clues to the geological activity of subglacial Lake Mercer and the West Antarctic ice sheet, as well as for the fossilized remains of microscopic life.
The borehole to Lake Mercer, deep in the ice, was open to the scientific researchers for about 10 days, until early January 2019.
The expedition has taken more than three years to organize, and was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs.