Geophysical exploration of a West Antarctic subglacial lake

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences

Abstract

Antarctic subglacial lakes are liquid bodies of water located in topographic hollows beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica. They have attracted considerable scientific interest over the last ten years as they are expected to contain unique microbial lifeforms and detailed records of past climate change. Examination of these contents requires scientists to penetrate into a lake, and measure and sample the lake water and sediment. No lake has yet to be explored in this way, however. This form of direct analysis can only take place once a lake has been characterised fully by geophysical methods (to uncover the morphology of the ice base and the water depth of the lake). Of the 145 known subglacial lakes in Antarctica none have been measured to the level required for meaningful direct analysis to take place. We propose to undertake a comprehensive geophysical exploration of a 10 km long subglacial lake in West Antarctica, near the Ellsworth Mountains, named Subglacial Lake Ellsworth. The result of the project will be the first fully characterised subglacial lake environment and the establishment of a candidate for future direct exploration. Data analysis and modelling will be undertaken at the University of Bristol, the British Antarctic Survey and Northumbria University. Ice thickness will be determined from ice-penetrating radar, water depths will be found using seismic exploration, and ice flow and accumulation will be obtained from direct surface measurements. A series of numerical models will be used to understand the history of the lake, the flow of ice across the lake and the circulation of water within the lake. Data visualisation will be undertaken in conjunction with Dr. Martin Jakobsson (collaborator). Following this project, the next step will be to send a probe into Lake Ellsworth. A UK-led team has been assembled to plan such work (see www.ggy.bris.ac.uk/ellsworth), and take on what is arguably the most eagerly awaited and high-profile scientific project in the history of Antarctic science. Hence, the geophysical work we propose here will be thought of, in years to come, as a hugely important first step towards the understanding of one of the greatest unexplored habitats on Earth.

Publications

10 25 50
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Amils, Ricardo; Ellis-Evans, Cynan; Hinghofer-Szalkay, Helmut G. (2007) Life in Extreme Environments

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International Association Of Sedimentologists; Hambrey, Michael; Christoffersen, Poul; Glasser, Neil F.; Hubbard, Bryn (2007) Glacial Sedimentary Processes and Products: Special Publication

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Siegert, Martin J.; Kennicutt, Mahlon C., II; Bindschadler, Robert A. (2011) Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments

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Siegert, Martin J.; Kennicutt, Mahlon C., II; Bindschadler, Robert A. (2011) Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments

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Siegert, Martin J.; Kennicutt, Mahlon C., II; Bindschadler, Robert A. (2011) Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments

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Siegert, Martin J.; Kennicutt, Mahlon C., II; Bindschadler, Robert A. (2011) Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments

 
Description We have mapped out in fine detail the size and shape of an Antarctic subglacial lake, making it a prime target for direct measurement and sampling.

We have also shown the West Antarctic ice sheet has been extremely stable over the lake, over the past 10,000 years.

We have shown how bed topography is manifested in surface morphology, aiding the detection of subglacial landscape in regions where bed data are sparse or absent.

We have demonstrated that the lake contains sediment across its floor
Exploitation Route Others can use the fine bed data as a reference point for analysis of the association between ice surface and bed morphology.
Sectors Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description Our work contributed to the SCAR code of conduct on Antarctic subglacial exploration.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Australian Antarctic Division
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Beijing Normal University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation British Antarctic Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Durham University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Newcastle University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation Polar Research Institute of China
Country China 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation University of Delhi
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description ICECAP 2 fieldwork preparation 
Organisation University of Texas at Austin
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution At our meeting in Goa, we undertook a detailed flight plan assessment for Antarctic fieldwork this coming season. It involved analysis of satellite data, to inspect geophysical targets, and flight profiles to best capture the information needed for their analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Previously, US and Chinese colleagues had collaborated to equip a Basler aircraft with geophysical equipment - at no cost to the project. Chinese, US and Indian colleagues will commence fieldwork, with no operational costs to the programme. Australian colleagues will undertake a complementary geophysical programme, utlising the flight planning work, at no cost.
Impact none
Start Year 2015
 
Description Inaugural Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lots of questions from the public

Emails and twitter questions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=AwrBT.E48QNWo04AaNhXNyoA;_ylc=X1MDMjc2NjY3OQRfcgMyBGZyA3lzZXRfY...
 
Description Pint of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Many questions from the public about my talk

Emails, and social media contact, from the public about my talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://pintofscience.co.uk/event/undiscovered-origins/
 
Description Plenary Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The talk provoked many questions on subglacial lake exploration, from which several contacts have been made.

The Korean Antarctic programme met with Siegert in August as a direct consequence of hearing the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.isaes2015goa.in/speakers.php
 
Description Royal Society Meeting on Subglacial Lake Exploration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact International dialogue on the future of Antarctic subglacial lake exploration.
Article in Eos on the findings of the workshop.
A white paper detailing the 20 year future for subglacial lake exploration, fed to the Antarctic Roadmap Challenge to integrate with other long-term plans for exploration.
A Royal Society book to document progress and plans.

A high degree of community shared knowledge.
A meeting with the Korean Antarctic Programme on subglacial exploration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://royalsociety.org/events/2015/03/subglacial-antarctic-lakes/