Cover Story FATE Magazine 2002-06-01
Retrieved from Internet
Doubt of the real facts, as I must reveal them, is inevitable; yet if I suppressed what will seem extravagant and incredible there would be nothing left.”“At the Mountains of Madness”
The inspiration for this article began in the summer of 1996, when a series of email messages began to appear suggesting the possibility that “someone” or “something” was surreptitiously removing all recent maps of Antarctica. The notion was so outrageous that even die-hard conspiracy theorists found themselves having to clarify the subject—it wasn’t that Big Brother and his henchmen were ripping map pages out of every World Almanac and atlas in the country, it had merely become harder to obtain recent maps on Antarctica.
Intrigued by the electronic statements, I placed a call to Penn-Oh-West Maps in Pittsburgh to check on the availability of Antarctic projections. The store owner’s response was startling: “Sorry, sir. All our new maps of South Pole are on back order. Must be some kind of problem with the USGS.”
The United States Geological Service, or USGS, produces the most detailed maps available, such as the 7.5-minute series topographic maps at a 1:20,000 scale. Nor is the USGS planet-bound—their expertise extends to detailed maps of the Moon, Mars, and Venus.
Reflecting on the situation, I thought that the changes on the seventh continent are so few that they hardly justify the creation of new maps. If someone desperately needed a map of the South Pole, it would suffice to resort to a National Geographic map or to the nearest Rand McNally atlas. But could the polar conspiracy theorists be onto something?
The matter of polar cartography was soon forgotten—at least for me—until in 1999, the media trumpeted news of a truly sensational discovery: a lake whose waters had never seen the light of day, at least not for millions of years, a few miles beneath the polar icecap. The new body of water was christened with the name of the Russian experimental station located immediately above it: Vostok.
A Truly Stygian Lake
The discovery of Lake Vostok was a source of almost immediate interest for the U.S. space program, whose scientists saw in it the chance to conduct a series of experiments foreshadowing future unmanned missions to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, whose icy surface contains lakes and deposits similar to Lake Vostok.
In September 1999, a total of 80 scientists from over a dozen countries met at Cambridge University’s Lucy Cavendish College to establish protocols for researching the alleged life forms teeming in what must surely be the blackest waters in the world. In a series of press releases, the assembled scientists reported that the new lake’s microorganisms would have been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years and therefore represented a possible source of new antibiotics and enzymes.
British microbiologist Cynan Ellis-Evans stressed that the scarcity of food sources, the intense pressure and darkness of the subterranean lake, meant that finding advanced animal life at said depths would be difficult. His comments tabled any hopes of finding Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World under the Antarctic icecap.
However, undeterred by their colleague, the scientists gathered at Cambridge drew up an ambitious research program for Lake Vostok, including the precautions to be taken to avoid sullying the pristine waters of the hidden polar lake. The use of a “cryobot” was suggested: a ten-foot long device resembling a writing implement with a hot tip. The cryobot would descend the four miles separating the polar surface and the lake and, upon reaching Lake Vostok, would launch a sonar and camera-equipped “hydrobot” to explore the liquid environment. During the ’70s, Russian scientists had managed to drill to a depth of 3,600 meters, almost reaching the lake, whose existence was still unsuspected.
Ice-core samples proved the existence of methane—the predominant gas in the atmosphere of distant Europa.
Scientists and laypersons alike were thrilled by the discovery and its space-related implications, but Lake Vostok was never mentioned again outside specialized circles…until now.
A Continent of Magic and Terror
The Antarctic has always represented a source of inspiration for authors of fiction and adventure novels. One of the most memorable passages of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the moment when his anti-hero, Captain Nemo, unfurls his vast black flag at the South Pole, claiming to be the first to have reached the beckoning goal. But it would be flesh-and-blood characters who would write the real adventure stories of the Antarctic: Shackleton’s heroic attempts to reach the pole in a series of expeditions, none of them successful; the tragic death of Robert Falcon Scott at the pole, following the bitter discovery that Amundsen had beaten him to it by a matter of days, and finally, the efforts made by Vice Admiral Robert Byrd to establish a permanent U.S. presence in Antarctica—the research station known as “Little America.”
But Antarctica always manages to escape the confines of textbooks and appears to be bent on haunting works of fiction. The errant seaman of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner finds himself in an Antarctic realm filled with ghosts, while master horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, author of “At the Mountains of Madness,” describes the polar journey made by a scientific expedition. The trek results in the discovery of an unknown mountain range that conceals the existence of a nameless, ancient city built by the “Old Ones.” This primeval, non-human species met its end at the tentacles of its own creations: the huge and terrifying shoggoths.
The man who seldom ventured away from his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, delivers a story so convincing that the Antarctic cold chills the reader’s fingertips.
It is precisely in Lovecraft’s works that the purely fantastic becomes uncomfortably mixed with the factual, leading us to confront other polar mysteries of an equally ambiguous nature. Foremost among these is Nazi Germany’s expedition to conquer “Neuschwabenland,” or what had formerly been known as Queen Maud’s Land on most maps. The expedition and its goals have been the crucible for all manner of theories—each more outrageous than the last—regarding intraterrestrial empires, Nazi flying saucers, and the successful creation of “supermen” in hidden polar bases. Conspiracy theorists seek to bolster their speculation by referring to the sudden display of U.S. military force in the South Pole in the years following World War II, with the supposed aim of combatting the forces defending the last Nazi stronghold.
More recently, film spectaculars like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and X-Files: Fight the Future (1998) have employed the white continent as a hideout for extraterrestrial forces, whether arrived by accident or as part of a grim conquest operation, and the efforts made by human protagonists to overcome said unknown quantities.
Possibly inspired by this assortment of sources, belief in Atlantis has also found a new “lost continent” in which to nestle itself. After 17 years of intense research, British authors Rand and Rose Flem-Ath completed a work entitled When the Sky Fell (Toronto: Stoddart, 1995). Their book did not seek to ascertain the location of the allegedly sunken continent, but rather of other lands where the survivors of such a catastrophe would have sought shelter. The Flem-Ath’s studies led them to select two regions in separate continents: the environs of Lake Titicaca in the Bolivian highlands and Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, suggesting that both of these areas were particularly suited for the reintroduction of agricultural techniques in the wake of a planetary disaster.
Was Atlantis in Antarctica?
Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods (New York: Crown, 1995), has joined the Flem-Aths and other authors in supporting controversial scientific theories regarding the displacement of tectonic plates. As regards Antarctica, the theory suggests that the southernmost continent was located north of the present Antarctic Circle and could have been inhabited, featuring “a climate and resources suitable for the development of a civilization.” Could these researchers have solved the riddle of the mother culture we have come to identify with Plato’s Atlantis?
Whether Atlantis was located in Antarctica or not, it is worth bearing in mind the prophecies issued by Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet.” Aside from performing a number of cures while in a trance state, Cayce also gave us a series of readings regarding Atlantis which are studied to this very day. One of them made mention of an enormous crystal allegedly employed by the Atlanteans as a source of energy. Cayce predicted that said object would be rediscovered in the late 20th century, but without specifying its location. If the Sleeping Prophet’s prophecies coincide with the theories put forth by the Flem-Aths and Graham Hancock, could the Lake Vostok anomaly be connected to the lost power source of the ancient Atlanteans?
The Magnetic Anomaly
Early research into Lake Vostok indicated that the body of water had a depth of 2,000 feet—far deeper than any of the Great Lakes and half as deep as Asia’s Lake Baikal (5,000 feet)—a length of 300 miles and a width of 50 miles. Contrary to what was initially believed, the lake received filtered light. Further investigations also detected the existence of geothermal sources which warmed the lake to an astonishing 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with “hot spots” of up to 65 degrees. Given these new discoveries regarding solar radiation and temperature, scientists suggested the possibility that the lake’s encapsulated atmosphere purified itself through a complex interaction with water, and that the chances for vegetable life forms were very good.
Research conducted by Russian scientist Ian Toskovoi—who vanished near the Vostok station in March 2000—on “geothermal upboiling” also hinted at an alternative means of purification and replenishment for the subterranean lake’s atmosphere. Toskovoi’s geothermal upboils were located in the so-called “ice dunes,” which appear to be formed by thousands of bubbles of air measuring between several feet to several hundred feet.
However, the most intriguing news coming out of Antarctica had to do with the extremely powerful “magnetic anomaly” located in the northern end of the lake’s coast: a discovery which would give rise to a number of conjectures and would be compared with the fictional TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1) in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The electronic newspaper Antarctic Sun (www.polar.org), which soon became the main source of information on the Lake Vostok magnetic anomaly, stated that during the initial flight of the SOAR (Support Office for Aerophysical Research), aimed at conducting magnetic resonance imaging over the area, the magnetometer recorded an increase of 1,000 nanoteslas beyond the 60,000 nanoteslas which characterized the Vostok Station. Scientists had expected to find magnetic anomalies in the range of 500 to 600 nanoteslas in areas where volcanic material could be located, but the ranges encountered were simply startling. “This anomaly is so large that it cannot be the product of a daily change in the magnetic field,” stated Michael Studinger, one of the researchers involved in the mapping endeavor.
Also significant was the sheer size of the anomaly: 65 by 46 square miles. According to the mission’s geological team, the anomaly’s size and severity pointed to the fact that geological changes had taken place under the lake, suggesting the possibility that it was a place where “the earth’s crust was thinner.”
Australian geologist Harry Mason summarized the subject thus: “The magnetic anomaly’s sheer size and intensity suggest the presence of a large ultrabase component under this section of Lake Vostok at the surface of the continental crust rock, in other words, on the old surface prior to the ice formation.”
Using much less technical language, others noted that Mason’s explanation matched the hypothesis suggested by Prof. Thomas Gold in Australia’s Nexus magazine. According to Professor Gold, the amount of methane and exotic gases such as xenon and argon could represent a direct threat to global climate, since they would come directly from the Earth’s mantle using the geological features under Lake Vostok as “chimneys.” Aside from the danger this could represent for our planet’s embattled atmosphere, the teams of scientists and technicians in charge of drilling through the methane dome would be in the first line of danger, since such an operation would likely result in a catastrophic explosion.
Two Million Nazis
The lunatic fringe didn’t wait too long before chiming in on the Lake Vostok situation. The most outrageous rumors emanated not from the U.S. but from Australia, where a website (www.rumormill. com/Fortress_Australia) indicated—or ranted, more properly—that the total population of Nazis in Antarctica now exceeded two million and that many of them had undergone plastic surgery in order to move about with greater ease through South America and conduct all manner of business transactions. Conspiracy theorists stoked the fire by saying that the polar Nazis had successfully stolen an intaglio press to forge dollars, in addition to having forged “virtually undetectable” pounds sterling. The monetary needs of the polar Nazi community were further supplemented by “the gold stolen during the war and their ability to transmute base metals into gold.” It was only logical, they argued, that the mystery of Lake Vostok was also directly related to the nefarious activities of the polar Nazis.
The strange writings of the author known only by the surname “Branton” also resurfaced, especially one set of documents alleging that the Nazis had managed to build flying saucers and transfer them to Antarctica in 1944, and that the Nazi bases in the South Pole also included groups of renegade Pleiadans and Men in Black.
A digression becomes necessary at this point: While the odds that Pleiadans and MIB are cooling their heels at an underground Antarctic base are slim to none, there is a factual basis to claims involving Nazi Germany’s interest in the South Pole. In 1938, the hydroplane carrier Schwabenland left the German port of Hamburg for Antarctica, commanded by Albert Richter, a veteran of cold-weather operations. The Richter Expedition’s scientists used their large Dornier airboats to explore the polar wastes, emulating Adm. Richard Byrd’s own efforts a decade earlier. The German scientists discovered ice-free lakes with traces of vegetation and were able to land on them. It is widely believed that the Schwabenland’s subsequent visits to the pole were aimed at scouting out a secret base of operations on the White Continent. A suitable location was found at the Hlig-Hoffman massif, which was hollowed out into a facility known only as “Base 211.”
In 1947, Admiral Byrd would lead a task force of 13 surface ships and 4,000 soldiers to Antarctica as part of Operation Highjump. Although the expedition’s avowed intention was the testing of military hardware under extreme conditions, the suggestion that it was a combat operation aimed at dislodging Nazi troops from their last redoubt has always floated in the air.
At one point the torrent of email messages regarding Lake Vostok suggested the belief that almost everyone was involved in the mystery (First Lady Laura Bush was allegedly in charge of coordinating shipments of “unknown artifacts” headed for the Antarctic) and that the mystery also involved a UFO. Other remarks indicated that four experts in Antarctic mountaineering had been sent to Lake Vostok as part of a “secret mission.”
In early March 2001, a U.S. channeler known as Lady Kadjina replied to a series of questions regarding the mystery of Lake Vostok. Regarding the nature of the magnetic anomaly, she declared that long before the Antarctic became icebound, the continent had been used as a landing site by extraterrestrials. The ever-benevolent aliens built what we would call an observatory, explained the channeler, equipped with a signaling device capable of broadcasting coded messages. More and more such observatories would be discovered in coming months, and Earth governments would try to seize them. Lady Kadjina added that the observatory contained vast crystals which put forth a certain kind of magnetism, which had been employed as a guidance system so that large spaceships could land at that location.
But that wasn’t all: the magnetic anomaly also served as a port of entry to other dimensions. Vice-Admiral Byrd had apparently stumbled into one of them and had radioed back reports of seeing a completely different, verdant landscape under his aircraft.
“With proper knowledge of this equipment, a human being would be able to travel in time and access information stored in distant places. But we will be kept from doing so until our governments have put aside the arms race and reach a more peaceful level of co-existence.”
The Interrupted Press Conference
“Good morning. Could I speak with Debra Shingteller?”
“Of course, one moment,” replied the switchboard operator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
This was my second attempt at contacting the protagonist of the extremely bizarre press conference allegedly held by NASA regarding its involvement, or rather, the sudden end of its involvement, in the Lake Vostok project. It appeared that the agency’s budgetary cuts had been so severe that not even background music could be heard while I was on hold.
“I’m sorry, sir. She’s not in at the moment.”
“Ah...could you please give me her voicemail?”
“Of course. Hold on, please.”
Although I doubted that the elusive Ms. Shingteller would actually return my message, I thought that it was still worth a try. I was surprised, however, when the voice on the answering machine did not correspond to that of the spokesperson, but to another functionary of the NASA Public Information Office. It would appear that Ms. Shingteller had taken some time off after the conference that would make her a household name in conspiracy circles around the world. My question, in any event, was straightforward: why didn’t the press release regarding the sudden distancing of NASA and JPL with the Lake Vostok project appear among the ones publicly available on the web (www.nasa. gov)?
The communiqué which had vanished from the electronic medium would have read thus: “ANTARCTIC CARTOGRAPHIC MISSION INTERRUPTED DUE TO N.S.A. OVERRIDE,” adding that NASA spokesperson Ms. Shingteller had alluded to “matters of national security” which necessitated the termination of both space exploration agencies’ involvement in the research initiatives at Lake Vostok. After saying these words, the spokeswoman was escorted from the podium while her assistant responded to the inevitable questions from the press core with a rote sentence: “The project has been cancelled due to environmental reasons.”
Shortly after this event, JPL’s Frank D. Carsey tried to put an end to the rumors by saying that the wrong acronym had been employed, and “NSA intervention” should have been “NSF intervention,” given the National Science’s Foundation assumption of the NASA’s drilling operations, arising from the fact that the space agency’s funds had been exhausted.
This did nothing to allay the mystery.
Word spread over the Internet that researchers stationed at Norway’s Amundsen base, 150 miles east of Vostok, had witnessed the arrival of a large quantity of equipment and personnel in the study area. Australian sources remarked that the two women who had taken the challenge of crossing Antarctica by skiing from one end to the other had been forcibly evacuated. Apparently both skiers had been transferred to the Australian polar base and from there to Samoa by an elite U.S. Marines unit, despite the protests of Australian personnel. Another rumor held that Russian scientists had been evicted from the Vostok base by U.S. Navy SEALS (what must Vladimir Putin have thought about all this?) while an exodus of personnel from the U.S. bases was underway: Seven individuals, all of them employed by Raytheon, which provides support services for the American polar bases, were evacuated for medical reasons, while another four departed from the McMurdo base voluntarily.
According to statements made on the Art Bell Show, two of departees from the South Pole were suffering from an ailment about which they refused to comment. Much was made about a comment voiced by the physician in charge at McMurdo to the medical officer who was coming in to replace him: “Fill your pockets with salt” —apparently a phrase commonly employed in the nuclear industry referring to the taking of iodine tablets in order to prevent any harm to the thyroid gland in the event of a nuclear crisis.
Even more startling was a statement posted on the Internet and attributed to Mike Bara, who coordinates the Enterprise Mission’s “South Pole Update.” The statement supposedly suggested that the short supply or complete lack of salt at the South Pole at the end of the Antarctic summer, at a time when sufficient quantities ought to be found after seasonal revictualing, suggested the possibility that the salt was being consumed by workers due to high levels of radioactivity—suggesting the possibility that the source of Lake Vostok’s heat could have been radioactive in nature.
Lest the reader be given the idea that the Antarctic has a monopoly on mystery, a visit to the lands surrounding the Arctic Circle may be in order.
In his book Atlantis Rising (Dell, 1976), renowned paranormal and UFO researcher Brad Steiger mentioned a 1965 paper presented by Canadian geophysicist John M. DeLaurier of the Dominion of Canada Observatory. According to this scientist, there was something strange going on beneath the ground at Ellesmere Island, a barren location mostly covered by glacial icecap and roamed by herds of caribou and musk oxen.
Professor DeLaurier’s paper discussed the existence of a structure so vast that it defied imagination—a quasi-cylindrical loaf of an object measuring 65 miles long by 65 miles thick at a staggering depth of 80 miles. The huge structure had been detected by seismic equipment located at Alert, one of the U.S.-Canadian Distant Early Warning (DEW) stations in the Arctic wilderness. Studies showed that the object, which straddled the earth’s mantle and crust, was the source of some sort of disturbance—similar to the situation encountered at Lake Vostok 30-odd years later—affecting the magnetic field at the Alert facility and “inducing a strong flow of electricity.”
Official sources have not provided much additional information regarding the mysterious Antarctic lake, and the controversy rages on across the Internet, while hundreds of different opinions clash over the nature of the goings-on at this remote location.
Scott Corrales is a frequent contributor to Fate. He is the editor of Inexplicata: The Journal of Hispanic Ufology..
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