Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Two new lakes found beneath Antarctic ice sheet


Ancient water bodies may contain ecosystems adapted to life beneath more than two miles of ice

The Earth Institute at Columbia University--Lying beneath more than two miles of Antarctic ice, Lake Vostok may be the best-known and largest subglacial lake in the world, but it is not alone down there. Scientists have identified more than 145 other lakes trapped under the ice. Until now, however, none have approached Vostok’s size or depth.

In the February 2006 issue of Geophysical Review Letters, scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, describe for the first time the size, depth and origin of Vostok’s two largest neighbors. The two ice-bound lakes are referred to as 90ºE and Sovetskaya for the longitude of one and the Russian research station coincidentally built above the other. The scientists’ findings also indicate that, as suspected with Lake Vostok, an exotic ecosystem may still be thriving in the icy waters 35 million years after being sealed off from the surface.

Geophysicists Robin Bell and Michael Studinger of Lamont-Doherty combined data from ice-penetrating radar, gravity surveys, satellite images, laser altimetry and records of a Soviet Antarctic Expedition that unknowingly traversed the lakes in 1958-1959. The shorelines of the lakes appeared in satellite images of the region as perturbations in the surface of the East Antarctic ice sheet. In addition, because the ice is effectively floating on the surface of the lakes, the ice sheet exhibits slight depressions over the lakes that appear in radar and laser elevations.

Bell and Studinger, along with colleagues from the University of New Hampshire and NASA, report that the 90ºE Lake has a surface area of 2,000km2, which is about the size of Rhode Island, and is second only to Lake Vostok’s 14,000km2 surface area. Sovetskaya Lake was calculated to be about 1,600 km2. Both are sealed beneath more than two miles of ice.

The lake depths, estimated to be at least 900 meters, were calculated from gravity data taken during aerial surveys in 2000 and 2001. Because gravitational force is directly related to mass, a decrease in gravitational pull over the ice sheet corresponds to a decrease in mass beneath the ice. "Over the lakes, the pull of gravity is much weaker, so we know there must be a big hole down there," said Bell.

Their depth, along with the fact that they are parallel to each other and Lake Vostok, indicate that the lake system is tectonic in origin, the authors conclude.

Shallow lakes scooped out by glaciers or a meteorite impact can quickly fill with sediment, and thus are short lived. Lakes created by faulted blocks of the Earth’s crust, however, are deeper and don’t fill in as rapidly. Many of the smaller sub-glacial lakes scientists have identified so far are believed to be shallow "ephemeral" lakes that were suddenly sealed off by the ice.

The combination of heat from below and a thick layer of insulating ice above keeps the water temperature at the top of 90ºE and Sovetskaya at a balmy –2 degrees Celsius, despite temperatures on the surface that can drop to –80 degrees Celsius in winter. Since the lakes are bounded by faults, Bell said it is likely the lakes receive flows of nutrients that could support unique ecosystems. Moreover, laser mapping of the ice sheet surface by NASA’s Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) revealed that this water-ice boundary, or ceiling, is tilted.

"Since the surface is tilted, we know that the ice sheet changes thickness over the lake and that will drive circulation in the lake," said Bell. "This will provide mixing and distribute whatever nutrients are in the lake, which is an important component of subglacial ecosystems."

This, along with the tectonic origin of the lakes, supports the idea that despite climate changes on the surface over the last 10 million to 35 million years, the volume of the lakes have remained remarkably constant, providing a stable, if inhospitable, environment that may harbor an ancient and alien ecosystem adapted to life beneath the ice sheet. However, just how, when or even whether scientists will risk the possibility of contaminating the lakes to confirm their suspicions remains the subject of an ongoing international debate.

The study was supported by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Palisades Geophysical Institute, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

Ken Kostel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Gas hydrate research: Advanced knowledge and new technologies
23.03.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>