I recently read about a really cool news story in articles posted on multiple online news sources.

You may not be aware of it, because our mainstream media is overloaded with reports about uprisings by Islamic extremists all over the world, government officials snubbing their noses at the will of the people and acting more like eighth-graders than world leaders, and self-centered, misguided athletes being caught living lies and then trying to save face with convoluted, contradictory statements and explanations that basically don’t make any sense.

But the story I’m referring to is the kind that offers a chance to escape all that junk and let your mind wander into places of wonder and amazement.

Apparently, there’s a bit of a race taking place in Antarctica. American, British and Russian scientists are – at different locations – boring through the frozen continent’s thick ice shelf with the goal of sampling water in ancient lakes that lie beneath.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

The Russians claim to have made it to the surface of Lake Vostok, a huge body of water as large as Lake Ontario that has been cut off from daylight for perhaps as long as 20 million years.

Reaching the lake required successfully drilling through 3,768 meters of ice. That equates to about two miles.

OK, so when I read that, several things popped into my noggin. Like, oh my gosh, two miles of ice? A great-lakes-sized lake? In Antarctica?

Wow, cool.

Remember when your mom told you not to jump up and down on the frozen cow pond because you’d break through and drown? I’d say that doesn’t apply here.

I’m sure there are many answers to the question of “why” folks from more than one country are bothering with this icy endeavor, but I guess the main idea is to try to determine if there’s any aquatic life surviving in pitch-black, near-freezing conditions of watery environments hidden beneath Antarctica’s eons-old build up of frozen H2O. If there is, that would up the ante on the idea of someday finding out if the same is true on Jupiter’s huge moon Europa, which has long been believed to be covered with a thick layer of water (or an “ocean”) the surface of which is frozen by constant-sub-zero temperatures, but may well be liquid underneath.

Making the wild story of Lake Vostok even more fascinating is the subsequent resurrection of a strange myth related to World War II. According to a theory widely circulated in Europe, the Nazis built a clandestine base at Lake Vostok in the 1930s, and following the war, the remains of Adolph Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun were transported there by submarine for the purpose of possibly cloning them in the future.

Allow me to break that down. If the legend is true (and apparently there’s more than one European conspiracy theory fan who thinks it is), then Lake Vostok might by now be home to thousands of cloned descendants of Hitler and Braun living in a gigantic underground complex that includes spacious condominiums, a day spa, a shopping mall and even an 18-hole golf course. Yep, that sounds pretty far-fetched. But no more than the idea that the remains of Der Fuehrer and his woman were taken by U-boat to a subterranean base UNDER Antarctica.

While it’s highly unlikely that they’ll discover clones wearing swastika armbands playing golf on a lighted course with artificial greens and fairways, scientists involved in these Antarctic drilling projects believe the continent’s veiled waters could be home to life forms adapted to living in total darkness that survive using mechanisms similar to a number of creatures recently discovered in lightless conditions near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.

And, of course, if it’s happening under a two-mile thick shield of Antarctic ice, well, the whole Europa thing becomes that much more interesting. And what about Mars? There’s no small amount of evidence that the red planet used to have a bunch of water on it, and if it didn’t somehow go “poof” into deep space in a fateful instant long ago, and it’s all still there under the Martian surface, well, you get the idea.

Naturally (and understandably), some people might argue that “we don’t need to be spending money drilling through miles of ice to see if there’s some kind of shrimp swimming around down there.” Still, I can’t help but love the pioneering aspect of stuff like this, and if our world doesn’t end any time soon, we might someday benefit from the knowledge gleaned by these Antarctic explorers.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never be planning a trip to Europa (for one thing, my truck doesn’t get good enough gas mileage for me to afford making the almost 400-million mile jaunt), but you never know, someone else might in the distant future. If so, they might be better prepared for arrival thanks to the present Antarctic water hunts.

Anyway, there’s still plenty of time for the Russians to screw this up and do something dumb that results in the contamination the pristine waters of Lake Vostok (like dropping an open bottle of vodka into the drill hole or finding a way to spill petroleum into it), but I wish them the best as they continue their efforts. Meanwhile, the Brits are drilling down to Lake Ellsworth in another area of Antarctica, and an American team was scheduled to begin drilling early this year in an attempt to reach a network of waterways called the Whillans Ice Stream. Imagine: all that fresh water and it hasn’t been exposed to light or air for tens of millions of years (note: Antarctica hasn’t always been frozen; fossils have been found there that denote a much warmer past).

Next thing you know, there will be shows on those satellite TV outdoor channels depicting the best techniques for ice fishing in Antarctic lakes and streams. Yeah, yeah – dress warm, bring lots of freeze-dried food, and expect bad weather – I get it. All I want to know is, how do I pull up a six-pounder through a two-mile deep hole?

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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