One Step Closer to First Exploration of Sub-Glacial Lake Ellsworth
04.06.2010 - Water & Oceans, Ice & Snow, Flora & Fauna, Antarctic
In a paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters, scientists have revealed that they have located the optimal drilling site for the exploration of Antarctic sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth, which would be a major first. Although no one has ever drilled into an Antarctic sub-glacial lake, microbiologists and paleoclimatologists believe that the data they will gain through the drilling could substantially improve knowledge in their respective fields of expertise.
To access the lake and the untouched sediments, the team had to search for the right place to drill. The optimal site had to avoid possible areas of incoming water that would disturb the sediment, as well as areas of basal freezing, where lake water freezes to the underside of the ice. It also must be devoid of any concentrations of trapped gases which could rush up the bore hole and become potentially dangerous at the surface.
So in order to locate the ideal site, the team had to conduct the first detailed characterization of the physiography of a sub-glacial lake. During the first stage, between 2007-2009, the lake was subjected to a ground-based geophysics campaign 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.
In its final stage, during the 2012-2013 Antarctic summer, the Lake Ellsworth Consortium will use the data in the paper to try and access a sub-glacial lake for the first time.