© University of Massachusetts Amherst
A bulldozer with payload bound for Lake El'gygytgyn on a previous research foray. For this logistically difficult study, scientists spent 10 years taking test core drill samples, measuring lake ice movement and other key factors in order to maximize the chance for scientific success and personnel safety.
In the next few days, a convoy of bulldozers and trucks will set out from a remote airport in Siberia, heading for a frozen lake 62 miles north of the Arctic Circle, but the trip isn't a holiday visit to the North Pole. Instead, the trucks will deliver core-drilling equipment for a study of sediment and meteorite-impact rocks that should provide the longest time-continuous climate record ever collected in the Arctic.
Once in place next month, the drilling will allow an international team of geoscientists led by Julie Brigham-Grette of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Martin Melles of the University of Cologne, Germany, to burrow back in time, retrieving core samples more than 3 million years old and answering questions about Earth's ancient past.
Almost impossibly remote, Lake El'gygytgyn (pronounced el'geegitgin), 11 miles in diameter, was formed 3.6 million years ago when a monster meteor, more than a half-mile across, slammed into the Earth between the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. Because this part of the Arctic was never covered by ice sheets or glaciers, it has received a steady drift of sediment - as much as a quarter mile (1,312 feet or 400 meters) deep - since impact. Thus, it offers a continuous depositional record unlike any other in the world, say Brigham-Grette and colleagues, beneath the crater lake that's just over 560 feet deep, equal to the height of the Washington Monument.