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What is Happening at the South Pole?

"Frankly doctor, we've been receiving reports that a rather serious epidemic has broken out at Clavius.
 Is this in fact what has happened?

Dr. Floyd -- "I'm sorry. As I said, I'm not at liberty to discuss it."

-- Scene from 2001 - a Space Odyssey

In recent weeks, a series of disturbing and mysterious reports have been coming out of Antarctica, centered around a strange "anomaly" recently detected on that perpetually frozen Continent. The stories, covered extensively by internet news sources (like Kent Steadman's Cyberspace Orbit site), draw eerie parallels to material as diverse as a French novel, the "X-Files" movie, and as we shall see, even Arthur C. Clarke's "2001 - A Space Odyssey."

All the intrigue centers around a fairly recent, but potentially "breakthrough" discovery on that faraway Continent. In 1957, the Russians built a base in eastern Antarctica which they named "Vostok" (East), which also happens to be the name of the first series of manned Russian spacecraft. In the 1970's, via airborne radar surveys, they belatedly began to suspect that they had "inadvertently" (as the story goes) built their base at the tip of a large subglacial lake. In the years since, orbital radar mapping (shown below) combined with surface seismological measurements have confirmed that "Lake Vostok," under over two miles of solid ice, is the largest lake discovered in the last 100 years -- roughly the size of Lake Ontario but much deeper in places (more than 3000 feet!), with about four times the volume.

The Lake, which is still liquid and not frozen, has been isolated under the ice sheet since anywhere from 13,000 to 14 million years ago, depending on who you talk to (thus, who's estimating precisely "when" the ice last completely covered the Continent). The water in the Lake (determined by surface thermal scans) ranges from 50 to 65 degrees F, clearly indicating a sub-terranean heat source. In addition, the whole Lake is covered by a sloping air "dome" several thousand feet high that has formed (from the "hot" water melting the overlying ice) just above the Lake's surface. Core samples taken by the Russians a couple years ago at their Vostok Base -- when they drilled down very close to the bottom of the ice sheet -- have revealed the presence of microbes, nutrients and various gases -- like methane -- embedded in the clear, refrozen Lake water just above the "dome." Such items are typical signatures of biological processes. The Lake, therefore, has all the ingredients of an incredible scientific find: a completely "isolated" eco-system -- water, heat, respired gases and (judging from the unique microorganisms that scientists were actually able to culture in the United States and Russia, when retrieved from their icy prison) ... current biological activity. As the actual scope and composition of the Lake became clearer from about 1998 on, NASA began to see it as an ideal test bed for its eventual plans to drill through the ice and search the oceans of Jupiter's moon, Europa. Accordingly, JPL received NASA grants to develop unique "sterile" drilling technology, conduct actually drilling and probe experiments in other terrestrial environments, and to prepare a Plan to actually enter Lake Vostok by 2002.

But, coincident with a stunning new discovery, JPL has evidently now backed off these ambitious exploration plans. 

According to Scientific American, the National Science Foundation has now suddenly cancelled plans to penetrate the Lake with a robotic probe by that target date: 2002. The ostensible reason is "concern over environmental contamination." As noted earlier, core samples returned from the ice refrozen just 100 yards above the Lake's "air dome," contained a plethora of microorganisms of various categories,  including some never seen before.


A new, uncategorized microbe from the Lake Vostok ice core samples.

These new, exotic life forms have raised concerns among the environmental lobby that exploration of Lake Vostok might "contaminate" an otherwise pristine eco-system. All this seems quite reasonable, until you factor in what happened in February, and the reaction to it.

A team of scientists from Columbia University, working under the auspices of the NSF, early in 2001 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. This remarkable anomaly, which is discrepant from the background by over 1,000 nanoteslas (a significant variance, compared to daily variations in the Earth's magnetic field), could of course be caused by "natural" processes.

One possibility, voiced by Columbia's Michael Studinger, is that the Earth's crust in the vicinity of the Lake is simply thinner under this section of Antarctica, having been stretched during the formation of the lake bed itself. This, according to Studinger, would result in a "local magnetic anomaly." Others, like Enterprise consulting geologist Ron Nicks, have serious difficulty with this theory. Nicks explains that such a thinning would heat the underlying rock and thus diminish (rather than increase -- as observed) the crust's ability to locally amplify the Earth's magnetic field.

There is, as always, an equally viable alternative explanation. An anomaly like this could also be caused by an accumulation of metals -- the kind you would get if you found the ruins of an ancient, buried city! 

An "ancient city under the ice?" Such a discovery would be absolutely dazzling, sending shockwaves through our world as profound as the discovery of "artifacts on Mars" or "ruins on the Moon." And the notion is not as improbable as you may think.

There is a growing trend toward the acceptance of the notion of "catastrophism" as a viable alternative to conventional geologic models. This is in opposition to the current (but retreating) geological model, called "gradualism" -- the concept that geologic changes only happen slowly, over eons. However, more and more evidence has mounted (from the Vostok ice cores, for example) that climatological changes can happen rapidly. Some attribute these "catastrophic" changes in the record to sudden polar shifts. Many researchers, from a variety of evidence, have put the last such sudden shift at around ~13,000 years ago.

Under this "catastrophic" model, Antarctica might well have been a temperate, even a jungle Continent, as recently as that 13KYA time frame. A sudden change in the Earth's alignment relative to the sun would have plunged this once hospitable land into a perpetual freezing hell, as cold as Mars in some places. Indeed, it is easy to see Antarctica as Hitler did, as the source of worldwide "Atlantis" legends we have all heard and read. According to  least one source, Dr. Werner Von Braun of NASA was convinced that Hitler's belief in an "Atlantis below the ice" was correct.

This admittedly far-fetched notion, however, begins to take on an air of viability when viewed in the extraordinary context of recent events.

Almost immediately after the discovery of the Columbia "Vostok magnetic anomaly," word began to leak out that JPL was inexplicably "pulling back from its Vostok exploration program." The reason given was the previously stated "environmental concerns." This was all well and good, until unconfirmed reports began to surface that a JPL spokesperson had admitted at a February press conference that the National Security Agency (NSA) had literally taken over the JPL polar research program at Lake Vostok. It was this report which created something of a firestorm on the Internet.

Several sources immediately pointed to the fact that the location of the "Vostok anomaly" is quite close to coordinates shown in the "X-Files" movie regarding the fictional location of a massive, "buried alien spacecraft." In fact, the Russian Vostok Base is the closest base of any kind to the coordinates given in the movie. (All this reminded us, of course, of our own previous suspicions about the true source of some of X-Files creator Chris Carter's story ideas ....)

The discovery of the peculiar Vostok anomaly underneath the ice -- encompassing an area almost 3,000 miles in area -- was also eerily reminiscent of a French novel, "Subterranean," in which Antarctic scientists discover an inhabited "Lost City" under the ice.

And there were even stranger stories suddenly coming from the "bottom of the world" in this same time frame ....

A December 2000 report, carried on this Continent by NPR, stated that "someone at McMurdo had become disoriented" and began to spread the rumor of a "UFO landing" in Antarctica. There was even a poster circulating though the Base, depicting a giant spacecraft hovering directly over McMurdo! The individual supposedly responsible was promptly "deported" from the Continent -- literally put on the next plane back to New Zealand (the official gateway to McMurdo)! Equally bizarre, at least three scientists -- including the Russian discoverer of a remarkable set of geometric "dunes," seen directly above the strongest region of the Vostok anomaly -- have died on the Continent in the past two years. Curiously, the causes of these deaths -- all of them young men in their thirties and forties -- have not been reported.


McMurdo Station

Whether the story about the JPL press conference is, in fact, the truth (we have yet to substantiate the actual report), still stranger things began to happen down South. Initially, it was reported that the doctor at the South Pole (the second replacement in two years at the Amundson-Scott Base) needed an unprecedented airlift extraction (this late in the season) -- because of "complications from a gall stone." Then, coincident with that, other reports began to surface of the need for four more medical extractions, in an equally unprecedented fashion, from the coastal base at McMurdo Station, the largest US base on the entire Continent. Again, as with the previously reported deaths, the reasons were somewhat mysterious as to the precise need for these "emergency medical extractions." Public speculation has hinged on the idea that someone coming into McMurdo from New Zealand brought "something" with them from home, some kind of infectious disease, that was subsequently spreading among the isolated population there.

However, this is extremely unlikely. Precisely because of the isolated population in Antarctica, immigrants are screened for a wide range of diseases before being allowed on the Continent. In fact, upon arrival, they are quarantined for a number of days -- to ensure they have not brought any "friends from home" with them. And, as is well known, the environmental conditions in Antarctica are so harsh that normal viruses and other microbial life cannot readily survive (even common colds are vanishingly rare), virtually guaranteeing that nobody in this instance caught a case of the "Antarctic flu."

So what's happening? Two thoughts immediately spring to mind:

One is that some "Special Project" has, against all scientific and environmental prudence, indeed drilled through the ice into the Lake Vostok eco-system (clandestinely, of course). And, the participants have suddenly found themselves exposed to "something" for which their bodies literally have no immunity -- something not extant in the rest of Earth's biosphere for between 13,000 and several million years! After the initial reports of "four emergency extractions," the number changed to five ... and now twelve McMurdo personnel are supposedly in need of a dangerous, "emergency medical evacuation" well into the Antarctic winter season. At one level, this has all the earmarks of "something" virulently spreading among the limited winter population at the Base, something that even the fairly complete medical facilities at McMurdo can no longer cope with. Complicating the picture is the fact that the "extractees" are not research scientists or long-term support personnel, but are all employees of Raytheon Corporation -- a high-tech firm that is deeply involved in a variety of black-ops programs for the U.S. government all around the world.

This idea (that these two simultaneous "emergencies" are actually due to some kind of "black ops fiasco" in Antarctica) is reinforced by another little noticed story coming out of the Amundson-Scott Base -- that the doctor being brought in (to replace the ailing doctor) has been asked to also bring in "an emergency supply of salt." She's even been asked to "stuff her own pockets full of salt packets," ostensibly because there is "no room on the rescue aircraft itself." This is obviously a silly, thinly-veiled "cover story" ... designed to tell someone "outside" ... "something." Salt is crucial to survival in outdoor conditions in Antarctica. The air is so dry, that unless someone exposed to the outdoors there has a good supply of salt, they are likely to face the possibility of death by mineral depletion and dehydration. Obviously the Base, after years of operation, would have a pretty good handle on just how much salt is needed until the next re-supply plane arrives. So how is it that they suddenly find themselves desperately without any of it left?!

Maybe, because they suddenly had a unique situation. Maybe because a team of scientists and engineers from Raytheon spent a lot of unplanned days out on the windswept ice, frantically drilling against the clock, in an all-out effort to break through to the Lake below -- and in the process, used far more than the normal complement of salt to survive.

The other possibility for the sudden, simultaneous "evacuations" is even more extraordinary.

What if these Raytheon black ops personnel did indeed find "something" in their secret drilling under Vostok -- and needed to get it back to civilization ASAP for in-depth study. Under this scenario, the whole idea of an "outbreak" is simply a ruse to cover the need for a large airplane (a New Zealand C-130 Hercules) dramatically visiting McMurdo at a time never attempted in all its years before: the only "way out" for something very important from the Continent. How do you cover such an operation? Put all the medical hints out there, and wait for the Internet conspiracists to "figure out" that there has been some kind of outbreak at McMurdo (there has been NO official confirmation of this theory, by the way), all the while covering your real agenda -- which is to get your hands on a genuine artifact from "Zep-Tepi" before the dead of the Antarctic winter makes any such attempt this year impossible!

This "conspiracy within a conspiracy" would seem a little far-fetched even to us were it not for one inescapable reality --

-- It's 2001.

This whole weird scenario, the discovery of a magnetic anomaly at an isolated location, the secret digging to uncover an ancient artifact, the danger of shattering social consequences if the information is not properly contained, the concoction of an epidemic as a cover story for the secret activities around the extraction of the artifact -- is straight out of Clarke's "2001" playbook! The only real difference is the location of the artifact, Antarctica, instead of the Moon! Indeed, even the date -- 2001 -- is dead on. Anybody wonder if maybe Clarke knew something about "AMA-1" when he wrote his story more than three decades ago?

The parallels to us are striking. Remember, we have been warning all along that "2001" was Special, that a veil would begin to lift in this most crucial year .... All of us have been looking to Mars. Maybe, we should have been paying more attention to our own backyard.

Rest assured, we will be watching developments at the South Pole with great interest the rest of the year. After all, it is 2001.




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Copyright 1996 - 2013 Richard C. Hoagland+ All Rights Reserved