Scientists are melting ice from a lake in Antarctica that has been frozen for a million years, in order to study the microbes trapped within it. Are they releasing something that could be dangerous?

Researchers have thawed ice estimated to be at least a million years old from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden more than two miles beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica, in order to examine the eons-old water for microorganisms. They want to try to figure out how these tiny, living “time capsules” survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold and without food and energy from the sun.

Biologist Craig Cary says, “We are going to gain access to the genetics of organisms [that have not had] had direct contact with the surface world for at least 15 million years.”

The segments of ice were cut from an 11,866-foot ice core drilled in 1998 through a joint effort involving Russia, France and the United States. The core was taken from approximately two miles below the surface of Antarctica and 656 feet above the surface of Lake Vostok and has since been stored at minus 35 degrees C at the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.

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