Samples Taken From Isolated Antarctic Lake Beneath The Ice

An Antarctic research team has accomplished what no other team has ever accomplished previously by drilling through 800 metres (2,600 feet) of Antarctic ice to reach an isolated subglacial lake and taking water and sediment samples.

Samples Taken from Subglacial Antarctic Lake
An image from the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) borehole camera is shown.
Image Source: The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling Project

Isolated from our atmosphere for thousands of years, the samples taken from the subglacial lake may have evolved in a way completely differently to anything we have previously observed, simply by virtue of having been locked away beneath hundreds of metres of ice for so long.

The scientists and engineers drilling through the ice were part of the interdisciplinary Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD), using a customized clean hot-water drill to directly obtain samples from the waters and sediments of subglacial Lake Whillans.

The WISSARD teams’ accomplishment, the researchers said, “hails a new era in polar science, opening a window for future interdisciplinary science in one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers.”

An artist’s representation of the aquatic system scientists believe is buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet.
Image Source: Zina Deretsky, NSF

Lake Whillans is one of many recently discovered lakes and streams making their way underneath the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, and was specifically chosen due to the fact it appears Lake Whillans links to several other lakes. The WISSARD project took 3 and a half years to prepare after a decade of international and national planning.

Next on the agenda for the WISSARD team is to process the water and sediment samples in the hopes of answering questions related to the structure and function of subglacial microbrial life, climate history, and contemporary ice-sheet dynamics.

Studying the samples may very well provide a look not only at comparative evolution but also what life may have been like several thousands of years ago.

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