Ethics of subglacial lake exploration in Antarctica
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Current research shows tremendous promise for the exploration of subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Three projects to penetrate subglacial lakes are underway. The Russians are close to penetration of Lake Vostok, the British have plans to drill into Lake Ellsworth, and the U.S.A. WISSARD project plans to sample the Whillans Ice Stream in West Antarctica. The proposed explorations differ in technique and origin, however they all hope to test and analyze a subglacial aquatic environment using physical probes. This paper examines the history of the drilling attempts and discusses the technical aspects of the projects, including the types of drills, fluids used, and issues encountered. It also highlights the potential environmental risks posed by intrusion into the lakes and the ethical issues raised. It would appear that there are justifications for both sides of the debate on whether or not the drilling should proceed. The issues of legal position are also an important note in such a global and cross-cultural territory. As this kind of exploration has never been attempted before and is a prime example of human testing in extreme conditions, the space analogues are also acknowledged. Some conclusions are drawn as to the risk factors imposed by the exploration, and the potential benefits that could result from the data gained from within the lakes.
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