Watch CBSN Live

Experts call off search for life in Antarctic lake

British scientists have called off the hunt for exotic life in an ice-bound Antarctic lake after their mission was hit by a technical hitch.

Researchers with the British Antarctic Survey had hoped to drill into Lake Ellsworth, which they believe has been frozen over for hundreds of thousands of years, in the hope of finding microbial life forms that might provide new insight into the evolution of life on Earth. They also hoped the lake floor's sediments might yield a new record of the Earth's climate.

But the project had to be called off following difficulties with drilling. A statement posted to the survey's website on Thursday said the operation had been canceled, and it was not clear if or when the scientists would try again.

The race is on between nations to search for life in ancient Antarctic lakes. In February, Russian news outlets reported that Russian scientists successfully drilled into Antarctica's Lake Vostok, which is also in western Antarctica.

If scientists are successful, new answers may be unlocked about the relationship between water and life under extreme conditions.

"It's a basic curiosity-driven question," said Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol told LiveScience in September. "Wherever we find water on planet Earth, we always find life and there might be a relationship between life and water."

View CBS News In