Lost Life Found Deep Beneath Antarctica?

Cells containing DNA have been found deep beneath Antarctica’s ice. But the most important question still needs to be answered…are they still alive? Here’s more from Crux Guest Blogger at Discover:

The search continues for life in subglacial Lake Whillans, 2,600 feet below the surface of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—but a thrilling preliminary result has detected signs of life. At 6:20am on January 28, four people in sterile white Tyvek suits tended to a winch winding cable onto the drill platform. One person knocked frost off the cable as it emerged from the ice borehole a few feet below. The object of their attention finally rose into sight: a gray plastic vessel, as long as a baseball bat, filled with water from Lake Whillans, half a mile below.

The bottle was hurried into a 40-foot cargo container outfitted as a laboratory on skis. Some of the lake water was squirted into bottles of media in order to grow whatever microbes might inhabit the lake. Those cultures could require weeks to produce results. But one test has already produced an interesting preliminary finding. When lake water was viewed under a microscope, cells were seen: their tiny bodies glowed green in response to DNA-sensitive dye. It was the first evidence of life in an Antarctic subglacial lake…

(See the rest at Discover)

Return…from Extinction!

The latest news from Siberia is that Russian scientists appear to have grown an extinct plant called the narrow-leafed campion using 31,800 year-old seeds buried by ancient squirrels.

An Extinct Plant…Brought back to Life?

The reviving of the Narrow-Leafed Campion is just the latest in a series of ancient genetic breakthroughs, including the sequencing of Neanderthal DNA. Here’s more on this reviving of an extinct plant from The New York Times:

Living plants have been generated from the fruit of a little arctic flower, the narrow-leafed campion, that died 32,000 years ago, a team of Russian scientists reports. The fruit was stored by an arctic ground squirrel in its burrow on the tundra of northeastern Siberia and lay permanently frozen until excavated by scientists a few years ago.

This would be the oldest plant by far that has ever been grown from ancient tissue. The present record is held by a date palm grown from a seed some 2,000 years old that was recovered from the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel.

Seeds and certain cells can last a long term under the right conditions, but many claims of extreme longevity have failed on closer examination, and biologists are likely to greet this claim, too, with reserve until it can be independently confirmed…

(See The New York Times for the rest on the reviving of this extinct plant)

Lake Vostok: Hitler’s Secret Antarctica Base?

For over twenty years, Russian scientists have attempted to break through some two miles of ice and breach the surface of Lake Vostok. Recently, the Russian expedition seemingly vanished. Now, it has reappeared and reports of success are running rampant. What did the expedition find? Nothing at all? New lifeforms? A Nazi submarine complete with Hitler’s corpse?

The Lost World of Lake Vostok?

Lake Vostok has been sealed off from the outside world for somewhere between 400,000 to 20 million years. It remains liquid due to heavy pressure from the ice as well as geothermal heat. Lake Vostok constitutes an extreme environment, not too dissimilar from what one might expect to find underneath the ice on Mars or Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Researchers are hopeful they will find new lifeforms (probably microbial in nature) within its waters.

Lake Vostok = Secret Nazi Base?

However, at least one source is suggesting a different possibility. RIA Novosti is the state-owned Russian news agency that broke the story of the expedition’s success. In its report, RIA Novosti discussed a theory that the Nazis built a secret base in the region. It also mentioned other Antarctica-based rumors: Nazi relics…secret files…and even the corpses of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun which were apparently being set aside for…you guessed it…cloning purposes.

The odds of the Russian expedition discovering Nazi artifacts in the vicinity of Lake Vostok are beyond low. Still, it’s not completely out of the question. The Nazis explored Antarctica in 1939 and were interested in building a naval base in the region. Also, several Nazi submarines, notably the U-977, escaped immediate capture after the war. The activities of these subs remain shrouded in mystery. Here’s more on the Nazi speculation at Lake Novosti from RIA Novosti:

It is thought that towards the end of the Second World War, the Nazis moved to the South Pole and started constructing a base at Lake Vostok. In 1943, Grand Admiral Karl Dontiz was quoted saying “Germany’s submarine fleet is proud that it created an unassailable fortress for the Fuehrer on the other end of the world,” in Antarctica.

According to German naval archives, months after Germany surrendered to the Allies in April, 1945, the German submarine U-530 arrived at the South Pole from the Port of Kiel. Crewmembers constructed an ice cave and supposedly stored several boxes of relics from the Third Reich, including Hitler’s secret files.

It is also rumored that later the submarine U-977 delivered the remains of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun to Antarctica for DNA cloning purposes…

(See the rest on Nazi speculation at Lake Novosti from RIA Novosti)

Raiders of the Lost Lake Vostok?

As we reported yesterday, the Russian expedition to Lake Vostok has seemingly vanished into thin air. Now, we’re just 24 hours away from the looming winter deadline…and lethal temperatures of -90° centigrade. So, what’s the latest news on the expedition?

The Mysterious Lake Vostok?

As you may recall, Lake Vostok has been covered with ice for at least 400,000 years and possibly as long as 20 million years. Despite the chilly temperatures, it remains liquid thanks to heavy pressure from the ice overhang as well as geothermal heat. For quite some time time now, the Russian expedition has been attempting to safely breach the ice and take mankind’s first look into this “lost world.”

By mid-January, the Russians were using a thermal drill to churn through close to 6 feet of ice per day. At that point, they believed they were just 40 feet from breaching Lake Vostok’s surface. However, the team mysteriously broke off contact in late January, leading to questions about their whereabouts.

The Russian Team Surfaces?

According to an unknown source in contact with RIA Novosti, the team has finally reestablished contact with the outside world. While details remain skimpy, the source claimed the scientists “stopped drilling at the depth of 3,768 meters and reached the surface of the sub-glacial lake.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

If true, this would be gigantic news. Lake Vostok could contain new types of undiscovered life – life that might exist “in similar extreme conditions on Mars and Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”

However, the drilling procedures are difficult and there is a very real possibility of contamination when the drill breaches the surface. We’ll keep you abreast on the latest updates as they become available. In the meantime, here’s more background on Lake Vostok from the Daily Mail:

The scientific community is holding its breath for a team of Russian scientists that has not made contact with colleagues in the U.S for seven days, as they drill into a lake buried beneath the Antarctic ice for 20 million years.

The group has to evacuate its station by Tuesday – when winter kicks in and temperatures start to drop to an inhospitable minus 90C.

There has been no contact with the explorers for seven days and they have under 48 hours to make an escape from the icy depths before temperatures fall to deadly levels. There are fears that while hunting for new life forms they have been lost in the unwelcoming terrain…

(See the rest on the mysterious Lake Vostok at Daily Mail)

The Mystery of Lake Vostok?

Antarctica’s Lake Vostok has been covered with miles of ice for 20 million years. Now, just as it’s on the verge of being breached, something has gone wrong. The team of Russian scientists behind the operation has disappeared, vanishing into thin air.

Lake Vostok & the Missing Russian Team?

Eight days have gone by without radio contact and now, time is drawing thin. On February 6, temperatures around Lake Vostok are expected to drop an astonishing 40 degrees centigrade. Researchers are optimistic the Russian team is merely experiencing poor cellular reception or perhaps has already packed up and left for home. On a darker level, a drilling accident also seems plausible.

“The lake is known to have quite a bit of gas in it, like a carbonated soda, which could lead to a catastrophic geyser shooting up up out of the borehole when the drill finally hits water. If that happened, the lake could lose a quarter of its water and the weather above Antarctica could be altered, due to the sudden influx of water vapor into the air.” ~ Discover Magazine, 80 Beats Blog

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, what happened to the Russian team? Nothing at all? A drilling accident at Lake Vostok? An ancient dinosaur rising from the depths? The unleashing of a vicious plague? (Well, okay those last two seem pretty unlikely…). Here’s more on the mystery of Lake Vostok from Fox News:

The world holds its breath, hoping for the best after six days of radio silence from Antarctica — where a team of Russian scientists is racing the clock and the oncoming winter to dig to an alien lake far beneath the ice.

The team from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) have been drilling for weeks in an effort to reach isolated Lake Vostok, a vast, dark body of water hidden 13,000 ft. below the surface of the icy continent. Lake Vostok hasn’t been exposed to air in more than 20 million years.

The team’s last contact with colleagues in the unfrozen world was six long days ago, and scientists from around the globe are unsure of the fate of the mission — and the scientists themselves — as Antarctica’s killing winter draws near…

(See the rest on Lake Vostok at Fox News)

Man vs. Meteorite?

10,000 years ago, a giant meteorite plunged to the earth, smashing its way into Savissivik, Greenland. In 1895, famed Arctic explorer Robert Peary trekked across the icy expanse and laid eyes on the 31-metric ton slab of iron. The three year struggle that followed would go down as one of the greatest “man vs. nature” battles in all of history. Did Robert Peary get his meteor? Or did it send him to his grave?

A Mysterious Meteorite?

In 1818, Sir John Ross landed in northwestern Greenland while in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. He discovered an unknown Inuit tribe and was surprised to learn that they possessed items made from iron. The area contained no natural iron deposits and the Inuits lacked smelting technology. Although the natives refused to show Ross their source, they told him that it came from saviksoah, or “mountain of iron.” Subsequent tests of the iron-based items showed that they contained a high degree of nickel, which indicated that the “mountain of iron” was in fact, a giant meteorite.

From 1818 to 1883, five separate expeditions tried to locate the meteorite. All failed.

Robert Peary Explores the North Pole?

By the 1890s, the world was engaged in a race of exploration the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until the 1960s space race. The goal was to locate and map the North Pole, one of the last remaining unexplored places on earth. Lieutenant Robert E. Peary aimed to be the first one there.

At that time, a man named Morris Jesup was President of the American Museum of Natural History. According to Douglas Preston’s Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion Into the American Museum of Natural History, Jesup struck a deal with Peary. Jesup would “help finance the explorer’s work and pull strings to keep him on leave from the navy if Peary would make collections in the Arctic for the Museum.”

In 1894, Peary sailed to Greenland. While his main goal was to reach the North Pole, he also wanted to find things that could help fulfill his bargain with Jesup. The meteorite was one of those things. The natives liked Peary and one of them agreed to lead him to the iron mass on May 16, 1894.

Robert Peary Strikes…Iron?

After two days of traveling, a fierce blizzard caused the native guide to flee the expedition. Undaunted, Robert Peary and a man named Hugh Lee pushed on, found another village, and hired another guide named Tallakoteah. Tallakoteah told Peary that there were actually several iron slabs – the “Woman,” the “Dog,” the “Tent,” and the “Man.” After a brutal foray through ice, slush, and wind, Robert Peary finally found the two and a half ton “Woman” and the half ton “Dog” near Cape York. They were brown and covered with hammer marks, thanks to centuries of Inuit prospecting.

“The brown mass, rudely awakened from, its winter’s sleep, found for the first time in its cycles of existence the eyes of a white man gazing upon it.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Peary was told that the “Tent” was even larger and rested on an island about six miles away. Lacking the equipment for a proper retrieval, he marked the locations and headed home.

Robert Peary Excavates a Gigantic Meteorite

In 1895, Robert Peary returned to Cape York. As the curious Inuits watched, Peary wrestled the two meteorites aboard his steamer, the Kite. However, the “Tent” was another story.

“The party dug around the object but it was too large to be conveyed to the ship, which could not be brought near enough without extra means of lifting the interesting specimen.” ~ New York Times, April 22, 1896

It measured 11 by 7 by 5.5 feet and weighed about 31 metric tons, making it the largest known meteor on earth at that time. Peary returned to Cape York in August 1896 with a new ship named The Hope. His crew dug around the meteorite and placed hydraulic jacks underneath it.

“The first thing to be done was to tear the heavenly visitor from its frozen bed of centuries, and as it rose slowly inch by inch under the resistless lift of the hydraulic jacks, gradually displaying its ponderous sides, it grew upon us as Niagara grows upon the observer, and there was not one of us unimpressed by the enormousness of this lump of metal.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Next, Peary attempted to use the jacks to roll the meteorite down a steep hill. But the jacks were wearing out and ice threatened to trap The Hope. Ultimately, Peary was forced to abandon the giant iron beast near the shore line.

In the summer of 1897, Robert Peary returned once again to Cape York. Risking everything, Peary brought his ship right up to the bluff where the “Tent” lay waiting. Steel rails were placed between the deck and the bluff. Then the giant meteorite was slid over the rails and onto the ship. The compass needles went crazy, locking onto the great iron mass. But it was of little concern. Peary had won.

“Never have I had the terrific majesty of the force of gravity and the meaning of the terms ‘momentum’ and ‘inertia’ so powerfully brought home to me, as in handling this mountain of iron.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

On September 30, 1897, Robert Peary arrived at Brooklyn Naval Yard with the meteor in tow. While Mrs. Peary, acting on behalf of her husband, haggled over the price, the American Museum of Natural History took possession of the meteorite. In 1904, Mrs. Peary officially sold the meteorite to the Museum for $40,000.

The “Tent” has since given way to other names. It’s now commonly referred to as Ahnighito, in reference to syllables uttered by Peary’s four year old daughter when she first saw the iron mass. Experts prefer to call it the Cape York meteorite.

Today it sits in Arthur Ross Hall. It remains the largest meteorite ever moved by man. However, it is no longer the single largest intact meteorite known to man (that honor belong to the 60 ton Hoba meteorite).

Although Peary’s expedition is over, his story may not be finished. Five additional pieces of the same meteorite have been found over the ensuring decades, including the 20 ton Agpalilik, which is widely believed to be the lost “Man.” For the intrepid polar explorer, there may be other pieces still out there, waiting to be discovered.

The Lost Franklin Expedition?

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin departed England on a voyage to pass through the last unexplored part of the Northwest Passage. He never returned. What happened to the lost Franklin Expedition?

The Disappearance of the Franklin Expedition?

By 1845, large portions of the Canadian Arctic had been explored. The last remaining section covered about 70,000 square miles and was considered extremely important since it was believed to contain a route allowing sailors to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Eager to locate this Northwest Passage, the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, Sir John Barrow, recruited Sir John Franklin to sail into the unknown.

Franklin wasn’t Barrow’s first choice. In fact, he was the sixth choice. But the other candidates either refused or weren’t considered right for the task. Franklin accepted, a decision that he would soon regret.

On May 19, 1845, the Franklin Expedition set sail with 24 officers, 110 men, provisions for seven years, and two ships – the Erebus and the HMS Terror – under his command. It never returned.

What happened to the Franklin Expedition?

In 1848, the first of many search parties were launched to find the lost Franklin expedition. In 1850, a second search effort uncovered a winter camp site and three graves. Subsequent expeditions have uncovered additional graves, messages etched on rocks, and oral accounts from the local Inuit people who claimed to have seen the Erebus and HMS Terror lodged in ice.

Most historians believe that the two ships hit ice in Victoria Strait, which is near King William Island. The crew travelled south to hunt for food and Franklin died shortly afterward. After a year in the Arctic, the Franklin Expedition had lost 15 men. The survivors grew sicker, due to a mixture of pneumonia, scurvy, tuberculosis, hypothermia, starvation, and lead poisoning caused by poorly soldered canned goods and/or the expedition’s distilled water systems. Eventually, they were forced to resort to cannibalism of their dead comrades. Around 1848, the survivors abandoned ship and vanished.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Despite numerous searches, the ships and Franklin himself have never been found. Recently, a Canadian expedition threw its hat into the ring, only to come up empty. Its not surprising. The terrain is vast, icy, indistinguishable, and always changing. Plus, the ships were lodged in moving ice for several years and may have drifted hundreds of miles during that time.

For the moment, the lost Franklin Expedition remains lost. But the search continues. Someday soon, explorers will hopefully find the missing ships and Franklin’s frozen corpse. Then we can finally put to rest one of the greatest explorers in history…as well as one of the greatest mysteries of history.

Death in the Arctic…by Balloon?

In 1897, Salomon August Andrée concocted a daring plan to become the first man to reach the North Pole. Along with two other men, he climbed into a giant hydrogen balloon and set sail from Sweden. But unfortunately, they never reached their destination. What happened to the lost SA Andree expedition?

The SA Andree Arctic Balloon Expedition

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, countries around the world competed against each other to be the first to reach the North Pole. In many ways, their efforts were similar to those that surrounded the moon landing race of the 1960’s.

At that time, Sweden was a virtual unknown in the world of polar exploration. So, when SA Andrée began fundraising for an expedition to the North Pole, he found an eager audience. His plan was to fly a balloon across the Arctic Sea. On the way, he hoped to pass near to or directly over the North Pole. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences agreed to fund the entirety of his expedition. Luminaries such as King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel also donated to the cause.

SA Andree’s Expedition Vanishes?

On July 11, 1897, SA Andree launched his balloon. Accompanying him were Nils Strindberg, a physicist, chemist, and photographer, along with an engineer named Knut Frænkel. For a short while, nothing was heard from the expedition. Then, a pigeon was shot as it landed on a Norwegian steamer. Upon closer inspection, a message was discovered.

“The Andree Polar Expedition to the ‘Aftonbladet’, Stockholm. July 13 12.30pm, 82 deg. north latitude, 15 deg.5 min. east longitude. Good journey eastwards, 10 deg. south. All goes well on board. This is the third message sent by pigeon. Andrée.”

This message represented Andrée’s final communication. The expedition’s disappearance became an enduring mystery that wasn’t solved for another three decades.

Discovery of SA Andree’s Lost Expedition?

On August 5, 1930, the crew of the Norwegian vessel Bratvaag landed on Kvitøya, a normally inaccessible island in the Arctic Ocean. They quickly discovered Andrée’s and Strindberg’s skeletons, along with a boat, equipment, and a journal. A later expedition uncovered Frænkel’s remains along with photographic film, a logbook, and maps.

The film and journals told a horrifying tale. The balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed after just two days. The men spent the next three months attempting to work their way south, fighting inadequate clothing, poor provisions, and difficult currents. Eventually, they camped on a large ice floe and allowed it to carry them south. However, the floe broke up as it bumped into Kvitøya, forcing the three men to move their camp to the island itself. At that point, Andrée’s diary entries grew increasingly erratic and its assumed that he along with his companions died a short while later.

What killed off the SA Andree Expedition?

Although the bodies were recovered, the mystery of what actually killed the explorers remains unsolved. In his book, De döda på Vitön, Ernst Tryde suggested that the men ate undercooked polar bear meat, causing them to expire from trichinosis. Others point to vitamin A poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, scurvy, botulism, suicide, polar bear attack, hypothermia, and/or general malaise. The most recent work on the subject, performed by Bea Uusma Schyffert, indicates that at least Strindberg died from a polar bear attack.

“Posterity has expressed surprise that they died on Kvitøya, surrounded by food. The surprise is rather that they found the strength to live so long.” ~ Rolf Kjellström

The expedition was ill-fated from the beginning. There were plenty of danger signs even before the launch, all of which were ignored or even covered up by Andrée. In many ways, Andrée appears to be a victim of his own success. His fundraising campaign created tremendous publicity and media pressure. With such expectations, its possible that Andrée felt like he had no other choice but to follow through with his original, poorly-conceived plan. He paid the ultimate price for doing so, as did Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Although the expedition was foolhardy in retrospect, it deserves to be remembered for another reason. Armed with little more than their own ingenuity, Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel managed to survive an astonishing three months in some of the toughest terrain known to mankind. Working together, they successfully steered a course south and if it hadn’t been for a run of bad luck, might’ve made it to safety. Yes, their story is one of tragedy. But its also one of inspiration and of perseverance.