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Lake Ellsworth Antarctic drilling project called off


A less ancient Antarctic lake forms from melting snow near Cape Folger on the Budd Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory on January 11, 2008.



A mission to drill through 3 km (1.8 miles) of Antarctic ice to Lake Ellsworth — sealed off for thousands of years — has been called off.

According to Wired, principal investigator Martin Siegert said that the decision to stop the drilling came after the team spent twenty hours attempting to connect the project's main and secondary boreholes through an ice cavity 1.8 miles below the surface of Antarctica.

"On Christmas Eve we took the decision to cease our efforts to directly measure and sample Subglacial Lake Ellsworth," Siegert said. "Although circumstances have not worked out as we would have wished, I am confident that through the huge efforts of the field team, and our colleagues in the UK, we have done as much as we possibly could have done, and I sincerely thank them all."

More from GlobalPost: British scientists prepare to drill into ancient Antarctic lake

The $13 million project was headed by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and aimed to drill through the ice using near-boiling water to reach the lake, which has been untouched for as many as half a million years, reported BBC News. The BAS team hoped to find hints of simple life forms existing in the extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, as well as a record of climate in the lake's sediments.

The delicate drilling operation, which began 16 years ago, used water heated to 90 degrees Celsius and pressurized to 2000 PSI — 20 times more powerful than a car jet-wash, according to Sky News.

Before drilling started, BAS engineer Andy Tait said: "This will be the deepest borehole ever made this way. It is the most effective way to obtain rapid, clean access to Lake Ellsworth."