Ancient Antarctic Lake Could Reveal Clues about Early Life and Climate Change
What secrets to life and climate change could lie hidden beneath the surface of Antarctica's ice sheets? Andy Smith from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) - who believes an ancient lake there could reveal new insights on future sea-level rises and the evolution of life under harsh conditions - is leading an expedition to find out.
The lake in question - Lake Ellsworth - is located 3.2 km beneath the ice and is approximately 105 m deep; these criteria, Smith explains, make it an ideal study site for future investigations to examine early microbial life and climate records. If all goes as planned, Smith and his team next plan on building a probe that will drill down into the lake to sample the lake's water - possibly as early as 2012.As reported on in ScienceDaily, the scientists' main interest in the lake, as outlined by Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh, is:
"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."
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)."
It will be particularly interesting to see how microorganisms living below the ice sheet's surface, assuming they exist, would react upon being exposed to sunlight, potentially affecting the region's ecosystem structure in unpredictable ways - a possibility a past study we covered suggested.
See also: ::Antarctic Icebergs Creating New Ecosystems, ::Break-up Of Antarctic Ice May Expose Marine Life To More Sunlight, Alter Food Chain
Image courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey