"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
-- 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
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! ~ 1000 meters), 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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
(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...
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!
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
Rest assured, we will be watching developments at the South Pole
with great interest the rest of the year. After all, it is 2001.