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Top 25 of 2013: Frigid findings

December 23, 2013
Wow, that’s a long way down: Reed Scherer shot a photo of his computer screen showing the live video feed down the borehole.

Wow, that’s a long way down: Reed Scherer shot a photo of his computer screen showing the live video feed down the borehole.

As 2013 draws to a close, NIU Today offers a look back at 25 of the top stories from the year.

No. 8

In January, a team of scientists that includes Northern Illinois University researchers successfully drilled through the overlying Antarctic ice sheet and sampled directly the waters and sediments of Subglacial Lake Whillans.

The effort marked the first successful retrieval of clean whole samples from an Antarctic subglacial lake and made headlines worldwide. Discover Magazine recently ranked the research project No. 12 on its list of top 100 stories of 2013.

The scientists discovered bacterial life living in the cold, dark and inhospitable water underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a find of interest to researchers studying how life forms might exist on other planets.

Reaching the subglacial lake required more than a decade of international and national planning, three-and-a-half years of project preparation and an intense week of on-ice weather delays.

In October, however, the federal government shutdown wasn’t resolved in time to save NIU’s return to the Antarctic.

The National Science Foundation, which was funding the research, notified NIU scientists Ross Powell and Reed Scherer and two participating graduate students that their planned Antarctic research season to begin in January was canceled.

Powell says the research team remains hopeful that it will be able to return to the Antarctic a year from now.