Plans to drill deep beneath the frozen wastes of the Antarctic, to investigate subglacial lakes where ancient life is thought to exist, may have to be reviewed following a discovery by a British team led by UCL (University College London) scientists at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM).
In a Letter to Nature they report that rivers the size of the Thames have been discovered which are moving water hundreds of miles under the ice. The finding challenges the widely held assumption that the lakes evolved in isolated conditions for several millions years and thus may support microbial life that has evolved independently. It has been suggested that if microbes exist in the lakes, they could function in the same way as those in the subsurface ocean of Jupiters moon Europa or within subsurface water pockets on Mars.
Professor Duncan Wingham, of UCL, Director of CPOM and who led the team, says: "Previously, it was thought water moves underneath the ice by very slow seepage. But this new data shows that, every so often, the lakes beneath the ice pop off like champagne corks, releasing floods that travel very long distances.
Judith Moore | EurekAlert!
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