Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin received a drink fit for dinosaurs on Friday when he was presented with a sample of ancient water from a subglacial Antarctic lake pierced by Russian scientists.
The event was screened on national television. The footage appeared aimed at showing Russia’s scientific prowess and helping Putin’s bid to reclaim the presidency in March’s election.
Putin hailed the discovery of Lake Vostok, which has lain untouched under the ice for at least 14 million years, as a “great event” and said the research team members would receive national awards.
After more than two decades of drilling, the Russian researchers reached the lake last Sunday at a depth of 3.759km in a location about 1,300km east of the South Pole.
Reaching the surface of Lake Vostok, the largest of nearly 400 sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica, was a major discovery avidly anticipated by scientists around the world.
“Well, did you drink the water?” Putin asked Russia’s Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev after being presented with a vial of water, which the government said was from the Vostok borehole.
Trutnev, looking flustered, assured Putin that he had not tried a drop of the water.
“Well it would have been interesting, you know: Dinosaurs drank it and Trutnev, a member of the Russian government, too,” Putin said with a smile.
Trutnev stifled a chortle and said he did not want to be a dinosaur.
Sealed deep under the ice, Lake Vostok is one of the world’s last unexplored frontiers. Scientists believe that microbial life might exist in the dark depths of the lake, despite its high pressure and constant cold — conditions similar to those believed to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
US and British teams are drilling to reach their own subglacial Antarctic lakes, but they are smaller and younger than Vostok.