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: Powerful undersea earthquake shakes southern Indonesia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rare Antarctic sub-glacial eruption

Feb 18, 2015

Australian scientists are hoping a rare sub-glacial water eruption near Australia's Casey station, will reveal why meltwater is present, and the extent of a river and dam system flowing deep under the Law ...

Ancient snow patches melting at record speed

Feb 06, 2015

Norway is dotted with small glaciers and permanent snow patches that contain all sorts of archaeological treasures, from ancient shoes to 5000-year-old arrowheads. But climate change has turned up the temperature ...

Recommended for you

Antarctica's retreating ice may re-shape Earth

5 hours ago

(AP)—From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can't be seen is the battle raging underfoot to re-shape Earth.

The sun has more impact on the climate in cool periods

6 hours ago

The activity of the Sun is an important factor in the complex interaction that controls our climate. New research now shows that the impact of the Sun is not constant over time, but has greater significance ...

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!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.