Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Drilling into the unknown: First exploration of a sub-glacial Antarctic lake is a major step closer

Date:
June 4, 2010
Source:
Northumbria University
Summary:
Scientists have located the ideal drill site for the first ever exploration of an Antarctic sub-glacial lake. Scientists have revealed the optimal drill site for exploring Lake Ellsworth, a sub-glacial lake comparable in size to England's Lake Windermere which is covered by three kilometers of ice. This development is likely to facilitate a revolution in climate-change research and may lead to the discovery of life-forms cut off from the main line of evolution for millions of years.

Subglacial Lakes, Antarctica.
Credit: NASA map by Robert Simmon, based on data from the Radarsat Antarctic Mapping Project, Ted Scambos, Chris Shuman, and Martin J. Siegert / Courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory -- http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Scientists have located the ideal drill site for the first ever exploration of an Antarctic sub-glacial lake, a development that is likely to facilitate a revolution in climate-change research and which may lead to the discovery of life-forms cut off from the main line of evolution for millions of years.

In a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters this week, scientists from Northumbria University, the University of Edinburgh and the British Antarctic Survey have revealed the optimal drill site for exploring Lake Ellsworth -- a sub-glacial lake, comparable in size to England's Lake Windermere, that is covered by three kilometers of ice.

No one has yet drilled into an Antarctic sub-glacial lake. But microbiologists believe that such lakes could harbor uniquely adapted life-forms cut off from other lines of evolution. Paleoclimatologists also suggest that sediments on the lake floors could contain records of ice sheets and climate history that would revolutionize research into global warming.

In order to access the lake water and the undisturbed sediment containing the climate record, it is essential to drill in the right place.

The optimal drilling site has to avoid possible areas of in-coming water that would disturb the sediment, as well as areas of so-called basal freezing -- where lake water freezes to the underside of the ice. It also has to avoid any concentrations of trapped gases which could rush up the bore hole to cause a potentially dangerous blowout at the surface.

The Scientific Committee on Arctic Research identified Lake Ellsworth as an excellent candidate for the first drill site.

Dr John Woodward, from Northumbria University's School of Applied Sciences, commented: "The location provides a deep water column for sampling and reduces the risk from possible basal-freezing mechanisms. It optimizes the chances of recovering an undisturbed, continuous sedimentary sequence from the lake floor, and minimizes the potential for trapped gases to gain entry to the borehole."

Dr Andy Smith of the British Antarctic Survey added: "This is an eagerly anticipated result -- the final piece of the jigsaw that we need to plan the exploration of Lake Ellsworth. That exploration can now go ahead at full speed."

To locate the optimal drill site, the team had to conduct the first detailed characterization of the physiography of a sub-glacial lake. Between 2007-2009, the lake was subject to a ground-based geophysics campaign involving an ice-penetrating radar to investigate ice thickness, seismic surveys to calculate lake water depths and flow measurements to calculate how the ice sheet flows over the underlying lake.

The climactic stage in the project will take place in the 2012-13 Antarctic summer when the Lake Ellsworth Consortium will use the data in this paper to access a sub-glacial lake for the first time.

Professor Martin Siegert, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: "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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northumbria University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Woodward, A. M. Smith, N. Ross, M. Thoma, H. F. J. Corr, E. C. King, M. A. King, K. Grosfeld, M. Tranter, M. J. Siegert. Location for direct access to subglacial Lake Ellsworth: An assessment of geophysical data and modeling. Geophysical Research Letters, 2010; 37 (11): L11501 DOI: 10.1029/2010GL042884

Cite This Page:

Northumbria University. "Drilling into the unknown: First exploration of a sub-glacial Antarctic lake is a major step closer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603091825.htm>.
Northumbria University. (2010, June 4). Drilling into the unknown: First exploration of a sub-glacial Antarctic lake is a major step closer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603091825.htm
Northumbria University. "Drilling into the unknown: First exploration of a sub-glacial Antarctic lake is a major step closer." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603091825.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) At least six Nepalese guides are dead after an avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest along a route used to climb the world's highest peak. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins