The principal investigator of the Lake Ellsworth drilling mission, Professor Martin Siegert, has said he and the team are "extremely disappointed" to have called off the mission.
He said that drilling was proceeding slower than expected and that there would not have been enough fuel to continue.
He added: "We must remember that the scientific reasons to do this work remain compelling".
Professor Martin Siegert said the aborted mission was "hugely frustrating":
A statement released on behalf of British scientists running the Antarctic mission confirmed drilling was called off in the early hours of Christmas Day:
A team of British scientists has called off its mission to drill deep into an Antarctic ice sheet in the hope of finding life in an ancient lake.
Drilling was due to begin at the weekend but one of the boilers used to melt snow failed to start up. New parts have been ordered but drilling is not likely to resume before December 21.
Professor Martin Siegert, principal investigator of the Lake Ellsworth team, explains more:
A team of British scientists are due to begin drilling into an ancient lake buried under 3 kilometres of Antarctic ice.
This will be the first attempt to extract uncontaminated samples of water and sediment from a body of water so far below the surface.
The team will drill the ice with a special hot-water drill, that will use approximately a thousand litres of water made from melted snow. It will take the team around five days to reach the subglacial lake.
Video thanks to Pete Bucktrout from the British Antarctic Survey.