Exploration of lake hidden beneath Antarctica's ice sheet begins

Jan 16, 2008

A four-man science team led by British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Dr Andy Smith has begun exploring an ancient lake hidden deep beneath Antarctica’s ice sheet. The lake – the size of Lake Windermere (UK) – could yield vital clues to life on Earth, climate change and future sea-level rise.

Glaciologist Dr Smith and his colleagues from the Universities of Edinburgh and Northumbria are camped out at one of the most remote places on Earth conducting a series of experiments on the ice. He says,

“This is the first phase of what we think is an incredibly exciting project. We know the lake is 3.2km beneath the ice; long and thin and around 18 km2 in area. First results from our experiments have shown the lake is 105m deep. This means Lake Ellsworth is a deep-water body and confirms the lake as an ideal site for future exploration missions to detect microbial life and recover climate records.

“If the survey work goes well, the next phase will be to build a probe, drill down into the lake and explore and sample the lake water. The UK could do this as soon as 2012/13.”

This ambitious exploration of ‘subglacial’ Lake Ellsworth, West Antarctica, involves scientists from 14 UK universities and research institutes, as well as colleagues from Chile, USA, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand. The International Polar Year* project Principal Investigator is Professor Martin Siegert from the University of Edinburgh. He says,

“We are particularly interested in Lake Ellsworth because it’s likely to have been isolated from the surface for hundreds of thousands of years. Radar measurements made previously from aircraft surveys suggest that the lake is connected to others that could drain ice from the West Antarctic Ice sheet to the ocean and contribute to sea-level rise.”

Professor Siegert is already planning the lake’s future exploration. He continues,
“Around 150 lakes have been discovered beneath Antarctica’s vast ice sheet and so far little is known about them. Getting into the lake is a huge technological challenge but the effort is worth it. These lakes are important for a number of reasons. For example, because water acts as a lubricant to the ice above they may influence how the ice sheet flows. Their potential for unusual life forms could shed new light on evolution of life in harsh conditions; lake-floor sediments could yield vital clues to past climate. They can also help us understand the extraterrestrial environment of Europa (one of the moons of Jupiter).”

Source: British Antarctic Survey

Explore further: New study confirms water vapor as global warming amplifier

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Great Lakes welcome rising water levels

Jul 08, 2014

After years of parched shorelines, water levels in the Great Lakes have come rushing back. The crowds that flock to the Superior shoreline this summer are finding harbors deeper and beaches narrower than they've been in 15 ...

Curiosity travels through ancient glaciers on Mars

Jun 25, 2014

3,500 million years ago the Martian crater Gale, through which the NASA rover Curiosity is currently traversing, was covered with glaciers, mainly over its central mound. Very cold liquid water also flowed ...

A habitable environment on Martian volcano?

May 27, 2014

(Phys.org) —Heat from a volcano erupting beneath an immense glacier would have created large lakes of liquid water on Mars in the relatively recent past. And where there's water, there is also the possibility ...

Groundwater could fuel life under glaciers

May 22, 2014

Subglacial lakes in Antarctica might have nutrient-rich groundwater flowing into them, say scientists investigating the origin of the water in ice streams.

Recommended for you

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

aufever
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2008
Do You suppose that this could indicate Volcanic Activity could be present under Antarctica? It has been shown that under the Glaciers on the North east Side of Greenland there has been warming (Probably due to increased Volcanic Activity), which is probably responsible for some of the Glaciers speed increases. To the Alarmist, what is our NORMAL CLIMATE?
out7x
1.5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2008
normal climate is described by ice core data. This is published in several books. Volcanoes are everywhere on earth. Antarctica is a continent and therefore has much activity. We need more geophysical data to describe.
mikiwud
not rated yet Jan 19, 2008
"Normal" climate is whatever the alarmists choose because it is not what we have now.Now is just as easily described as normal as any other time,it has been hotter and colder in the past.
What is the Normal Global Average Temperature?
What is the Average Global Temperature now?
Different studies give various values--So!