Lake Vostok’s Secret Life

Startling Proof of the Very Strange World Beneath Antarctica’s Ice


In the twenty years since the discovery of Lake Vostok, the burning—or should we say chilling?—question about the giant sub-glacial body of liquid water has been: will we find life there? In late June of this year the world learned that the definitive answer is a resounding, yes. The enormous lake is, in fact, “teeming” with life. Before the announcement, conventional wisdom has had it that Vostok was probably sterile. It is, after all, very cold and inhospitable down there but once again conventional science seems to have underestimated the capacity of life to exist, and even thrive, in worlds far stranger than previously imagined.

The first ice cores taken from Lake Vostok, almost three miles beneath Antarctica’s ice, have now undergone painstaking analysis; and, according to Dr. Scott Rogers of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, “We found much more complexity than anyone thought.” A paper published in June by Rogers and his colleagues in PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science) reports that, through genetic sequencing, no less than 3,500 species have been identified.

By sequencing DNA and RNA taken from the Vostok ice cores, the team has identified bacteria commonly found in the digestive systems of fish, crustaceans, and annelid worms, in addition to fungi and two species of archaea, or single-celled organisms that tend to live in extreme environments. Other species identified are commonly found elsewhere on Earth in habitats of lake or ocean sediments. As might be expected, organisms that live in extreme cold were found, but, surprisingly, there were also heat-loving thermophiles. This suggests, scientists think, the presence of hydrothermal vents deep in the lake. In other words, it may be warm down there. Moreover, claims Rogers, the presence of marine and freshwater species indicates the lake once was connected to the ocean, and that fresh water may have been deposited there by the overriding glacier.

For many years, Atlantis Rising Magazine has been among those making the case that there could be a great deal more to the story of Antarctica in general, and Lake Vostok in particular, than conventional science has led us to believe. With the emerging new evidence for “teeming” life beneath the ice, we think it worth reconsidering some of the more extraordinary possibilities of the region.


Liquid Water Under the Ice

The largest of Antarctica’s nearly 400 known subglacial lakes, Lake Vostok is located at the so-called southern Pole of Cold, beneath Russia’s Vostok Station (site of the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth, -89C) on the central East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The Russian research station, itself, is situated 11,444 feet above sea level. The surface of the lake, however, is approximately 13,100 feet beneath the surface, or approximately 1,600 feet below sea level. One hundred and sixty miles long, and thirty miles across at its widest point, the lake covers an area of about 4,830 square miles, roughly the size of Lake Ontario but much deeper, averaging 1,417 feet. Lake Vostok’s physical characteristics have led NASA scientists to argue that it might serve as an earthbound analog for Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter.

In 1996, by integrating a variety of data, including airborne ice-penetrating radar observations and space-born radar altimetry, both Russian and British scientists confirmed the lake’s existence. Over a century earlier, however, Russian scientist, Peter Kropotkin, had proposed the possibility of fresh unfrozen water under Antarctica’s ice sheets—theorizing that the tremendous pressure exerted by the cumulative mass of thousands of vertical feet of ice could increase the temperature at the lowest portions of the ice sheet to the point the ice would melt. I.A. Zotikov, a Russian glaciologist, who in 1967 wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the subject, further developed the theory.

According to a dramatic report released in December, 2008 by National Geographic News, Antarctica is not a barren polar desert, after all, but is a rich, complex environment where rivers larger than the Amazon link a series of “Lake districts,” which may be heavily populated with mineral-hungry microbes.

The buried lakes, it is feared, may be contributing to the current rapid melting of Antarctic ice and creating what could be the world’s largest wetlands. The lakes stay fluid, say scientists, because the ice covers them like blankets, trapping the heat, which rises from the earths’ interior. In 2008, about 145 lakes had already been found, and nobody was sure exactly what kinds of life they might have hosted, but “bizarre new deep-sea creatures” had been reported off the coast of Antarctica, which were believed to originate from the buried wetlands.

The Russians had first discovered Vostok while carrying out a scientific drilling project in 1989. Ever since, speculation on what really might be down there has raged. Some have envisioned a world of perpetual twilight—at least during summer months—warmed by geothermal energy, inhabited with everything from one-celled organisms to giant fish. The lake, we are told, has been sealed for at least 400,000 years and likely has a pristine environment possibly quite different than the world we know. Many have feared that the lake could be contaminated by various proposed exploration attempts or that some kind of catastrophe could endanger the lives of the explorers, or worse.


Lost Civilization

Some researchers, like ex-CBS space consultant Richard Hoagland (author of The Face on Mars), have conjectured that the lake may contain the ruins of a lost, ancient civilization. Indeed, unusual magnetic anomalies have been detected in the neighborhood. Researcher Len Kasten investigated Hoagland’s claim in 2008 and filed the story “Mystery Under the Ice” (A.R. #68).

Hoagland, wrote Kasten, asserted that in early 2001, “A team of scientists from Columbia University, working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation (NSF)… began a series of unprecedented low-altitude aerial surveys over Lake Vostok, designed to chart gravitational, magnetic and thermal activity under the ice. In the course of doing so, they made a stunning find. A huge magnetic anomaly was discovered covering the entire southeast portion of the shore of the Lake.” One possible explanation for the phenomenon, Hoagland theorized, was a large accumulation of metallic structures. This, he argued, could be “the ruins of an ancient, buried city.” Immediately after this finding, said Hoagland, the Jet Propulsion Lab pulled back its Lake Vostok exploration program and turned it over to the NSA, the agency that has lately made so much news. This scenario, he said, is “eerily” reminiscent of the plot of the French novel, Subterranean, “in which Antarctic scientists discover an inhabited ‘Lost City’ under the ice.”

Over the years rumors have persisted that in the period preceding and during World War II, the Nazi’s established a presence in Antarctica and that much UFO activity may have originated from bases maintained beneath the ice after the Nazi defeat. During the War, U.S. Rear Admiral Richard Byrd is said to have warned of a threat from the poles. Some say, that when, after the war, he visited the polar region with a Naval task force, he may have done so to finish off the German bases. Little in the way of convincing evidence to support such assertions has turned up, but one amazing story about Antarctica for which there is plenty of evidence has to do with the cartographer Charles Hapgood.

Hapgood, a professor of Anthropology and History at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, was asked by one of his students about Atlantis. Intrigued, he launched a nine-year investigation into ancient geography. Hapgood ultimately developed a theory of periodic displacement of the Earth’s 60-mile thick crust over the planetary core, which resulted in apparent polar shifts, and in 1958 he published his ideas in the book, Earth’s Shifting Crust. Among those with whom Hapgood corresponded about his theory was president Dwight Eisenhower. Albert Einstein himself, who died shortly afterward in 1955, wrote the foreword to Hapgood’s book, essentially endorsing his thesis. “The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way,” Einstein commented, “will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the Earth’s crust over the rest of the Earth’s body, and this will displace the polar regions toward the equator.” According to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England, the ice accumulation in Antarctica amounts to 2,000 billion tons each year. This, they say, is enough to build a wall 10 inches thick and a half-mile high from New York to California—every year.

Hapgood’s second book, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, published in 1966, revealed two fully authentic maps from the sixteenth century and one from the eighteenth, that clearly contain anomalous knowledge. How they could have been created, has yet to be explained. Incredibly, the continent of Antarctica is shown—configured correctly on all three maps—in an ice-free condition. Since Antarctica was not discovered until 1820, the fact that it should appear in any form on these early maps is perplexing, to say the least. All three mapmakers acknowledged that their information came from much more ancient sources, dating from as far back as 4,000 B.C.

The possibility of an ice-free Antarctica only six thousand years ago, as depicted on the ancient maps, caused Canadian researcher Rand Flem-Ath to consider that the icy continent could have been Atlantis and inspired him to explore the possibility at length. Initially not acquainted with Hapgood’s work, he came to conclude that a temperate or tropical Antartica almost perfectly matched Plato’s description of Atlantis in the Criteas and Timeaus. Flem-Ath was particularly struck by the fact that, when viewed from above the South Pole, Antartica occupies a commanding position at the virtual center of the world’s oceans, much as Plato had described the position of Atlantis. Upon discovering Hapgood’s crustal displacement theory, Flem-Ath realized that a shift of 30 degrees in the Earth’s surface could have placed a large part of Antartica in an ice-free-temperate climate zone. Flem-Ath and his companion researcher, wife Rose, delved deeper into Atlantis and Hapgood’s papers, ultimately to synthesize both concepts in their book When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis—republished more recently with new material and a new title, Atlantis Beneath the Ice. Graham Hancock has supported their arguments in his best-selling book, Fingerprints of the Gods, as well as by such well-known, highly respected writers as Colin Wilson and John Anthony West. (For a more complete discussion of the Flem-Aths’ justification of Antarctica as Atlantis, see the article in AR issue #7 by editor Doug Kenyon.)


Nazi Bases?

The aura of mystery surrounding the realm at the bottom of the planet has not abated with the years. Now covered with a blanket of ice over two miles thick, it seems natural to wonder what strange secrets might be concealed in its frozen depths. If, indeed, it was Atlantis or some other lost civilization, is it possible that actual artifacts of some kind might yet remain in some warm subterranean cavern or caverns? Apparently, the Nazis believed, or at least strongly suspected, something of the sort. It is well documented that in 1938 the Third Reich mounted an elaborate and expensive expedition to the South Pole area. When it is recalled that Germany was, at the time, on the brink of launching a world war, with all the attendant preoccupations and preparations, it seems extraordinary that the mission was found sufficiently important to justify the expenditure of significant resources merely to lay claim to a barren wasteland, with no apparent military significance, half way around the world. The Nazis, in fact, hired intrepid polar explorer Richard Byrd, then a civilian, to come to Hamburg and brief expedition leaders. That much, at least, can be documented, and according to the apocryphal 1990s-era conspiratorial classic and Internet tome, The Omega File, written by the obscurantist Bruce Alan Walton (a.k.a., Branton), “the Germans discovered vast regions that were surprisingly free of ice, as well as warm water lakes and cave inlets. One vast ice cave within the glacier was reportedly found to extend 30 miles to a large hot-water geothermal lake deep below. Various scientific teams were moved into the area, including hunters, trappers, collectors and zoologists, botanists, agriculturists, plant specialists, mycologists, parasitologists, marine biologists, ornithologists, and many others.” One fact, at least, is not disputed: to establish their own claim to the area that had been recently annexed by Norway, the Germans airdropped hundreds of swastika-adorned flags to mark their claim.

According to British civil servant and WWII historian James Roberts, in a 2005 article for the Australian magazine Nexus, the Germans succeeded in building an underground base in a massive ice cave, using the discovered inlets for access. Roberts claimed that British soldiers from the secret Antarctic Maudheim Base found the entrance in late 1945 and  “followed the tunnel for miles, and eventually they came to a vast underground cavern that was abnormally warm; some of the scientists believed that it was warmed geothermally. In the huge cavern were underground lakes; however, the mystery deepened, as the cavern was lit artificially.” As Roberts tells it, “The Nazis had constructed a huge base into the caverns and had even built docks for U-boats… [Roberts’ source] reported that ‘hangars for strange planes and excavations galore’ had been documented.” This purported British intelligence and other information elicited from former U-Boat captains, it has been alleged, triggered the U.S.-led Operation Highjump in 1946.

The very real Operation Highjump, officially titled The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, was intended to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV. Consisting of 13 ships, including the aircraft carrier ‘Philippine Sea,’ and 4,700 soldiers, the mission was in the charge of Richard Byrd, by now a Navy rear admiral with a distinguished war record. In a November 1946 press release Byrd benignly claimed, “the purposes of the operation are primarily of a military nature, that is to train naval personnel and to test ships, planes and equipment under frigid zone conditions.” However, since it was planned by, and under the command of, war hero Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, some believe the real purpose could have been to search for and destroy any Nazi base or bases in Antarctica. Originally scheduled to be a six-month operation, Highjump was mysteriously aborted after only three months. Was its mission accomplished? We may never know.

Three years later, admiral Byrd could have been found off the Antarctic coast leading an expedition to drill the Ross Sea bottom in places where one of the maps cited by Charles Hapgood, the Orontius Finnaeus, had charted various riverbeds. The cores produced by Byrd’s group, curiously, contained fine-grained rocks, well-mixed deposits, apparently delivered to the sea by rivers whose headwaters would have been located in the central, and unexplored, regions of the vast continent and, seemingly, not covered with ice.

Whether or not future explorations of Antarctica will produce evidence of Nazi technology and/or lost civilizations, it is now clear that, at the very least, life itself has gained a foothold beneath the ice and has been there for a long time. Who knows what kind of strange history may eventually unfold?

By Martin Ruggles