With only about 50m left to drill, time is running out for the Russian scientists hoping to drill into Vostok - the world's most enigmatic lake.
Vostok is a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica, hidden some 4,000m (13,000ft) beneath the ice sheet.
With the Antarctic summer almost over, temperatures will soon begin to plummet; they can go as low as -80C.
Scientists will leave the remote base on 6 February, when conditions are still mild enough for a plane to land.
The team has been drilling non-stop for weeks.
"It's like working on an alien planet where no one has been before," Valery Lukin, the deputy head of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg, which oversees the project, told BBC News.
"We don't know what awaits us down there," he said, adding that personnel at the station have been working shifts, drilling 24 hours a day.
But some experts remain concerned that probing the lake's water - thought by some to be isolated from everything else on Earth - could contaminate the pristine ecosystem and cause irreversible damage.
The sub-glacial lake is located underneath the remote Vostok station in Antarctica.
Overlaid by nearly 4km of ice, it has been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years. Some scientists think the ice cap above and at the edges has created a hydrostatic seal with the surface, preventing lake water from escaping or anything else from getting inside.
And if the Russian team gets through to the pristine waters, they hope to encounter life forms that have never been seen.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Race to drill mystery lake in Antarctica.
Isn't this how every horror movie from the '50s started? From BBC: