Ancient lake study moves a step closer

Scientists are a step closer to exploring an Antarctic lake that has been isolated under ice for three million years.

Scientists from the University in partnership with the University of Northumbria, University of Newcastle, and the British Antarctic Survey, have pinpointed the exact site at which they will drill through 3km of ice to reach the waters of Lake Ellsworth.

Drilling should take place during the 2012-13 Antarctic summer.

Scientific insights

Researchers hope to retrieve sediment from the lake, a body of water the size of Lake Windemere which has been cut off from the wider world under a glacier for millions of years.

Their findings could shed new light on evolution and climate change. Scientists hope to discover organisms that will provide clues about the evolution of life in an isolated environment.

Researchers are also looking to gather data about ice sheets and climate history from the untouched sediment, to give them insights into how Earth’s climate has altered over millions of years and what the implications are for sea level rise predictions.

Laying the groundwork

Researchers have examined the lake’s location using ice-penetrating radar, seismic surveys, and flow measurements.

The drilling site has been carefully chosen to avoid disturbing the lake sediment before retrieval and to make sure the sediment has not been recently deposited.

Researchers also hope to prevent trapped gas from being released into the drilling mechanism and to avoid contact with frozen lake water on the underside of the glacier.

The study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Pinpointing the perfect spot from which to access the sub-glacial lake helps us to find out all we can about this interesting and pristine environment, without the risk of contaminating it.

Professor Martin SiegertSchool of GeoSciences