DIRECT MEASUREMENT & SAMPLING OF SUBGLACIAL LAKE ELLSWORTH: A multidisciplinary investigation of life in extreme environments & ice sheet history

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

Abstract

This project has two fundamental scientific aims: (1) to determine whether, and in what form, microbial life exists in Antarctic subglacial lakes, and (2) to determine the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. To meet these aims, we will undertake the direct measurement and sampling of water and sediment within Subglacial Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica. For over a decade, scientists have regarded subglacial lakes to be extreme yet viable habitats for microbial life. Additionally, sedimentary palaeoenvironment records are thought to exist on the floors of subglacial lakes, which would provide critical insights into the glacial history of Antarctica. Of the >150 known subglacial lakes, Lake Ellsworth stands out as an ideal candidate for exploration. Through a NERC-AFI award, glaciologists have shown the lake, beneath 3 km of ice, to be 10 km long, 2-3 km wide and 160 m deep, confirming it as an ideal deep-water lake for exploration. The deployment of heavy equipment has been shown to be possible at this location, based on several deep-field reconnaissance studies. This project will build, test and deploy all the equipment necessary to complete the experiment in a clean and environmentally responsible manner. Samples will be analysed and split at laboratories in the field and at Rothera Station, and then distributed to laboratories across the UK. This project, which has been in a planning stage for four years, will be a benchmark exercise in the exploration of Antarctica, will make profound scientific discoveries regarding life in extreme environments and West Antarctic Ice Sheet history, and will be of genuine interest to the public and media.

Publications

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Hodgson DA (2016) Technologies for retrieving sediment cores in Antarctic subglacial settings. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Kennicutt, M.C., Siegert, M.J. & Ellis-Evans, C (2011) International Polar Year 2007-2008

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Makinson K (2016) Clean subglacial access: prospects for future deep hot-water drilling. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Mowlem M (2016) Probe technologies for clean sampling and measurement of subglacial lakes. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Parnell J (2016) Physical and chemical controls on habitats for life in the deep subsurface beneath continents and ice. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Pearce DA (2016) Microbiology: lessons from a first attempt at Lake Ellsworth. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/G00465X/1 01/11/2009 31/07/2012 £335,292
NE/G00465X/2 Transfer NE/G00465X/1 01/08/2012 30/04/2014 £208,852
NE/G00465X/3 Transfer NE/G00465X/2 31/10/2014 30/04/2016 £24,698
 
Description Building of environmental protocols for subglacial access.

The Lake Ellsworth consortium provided the 1st Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation for clean Antarctic subglacial access. The CEE was introduced to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Buenos Aires in 2011, and again in Hobart in 2012, where it received international comment. Follwoing revision to the CEE, the UK FCO granted the Consortium a permit to undertake the research in August 2012. The CEE was published in Reviews of Geophysics in 2012, and is also available on the project website: www.ellsworth.org.uk



Design of risk for subglacial instruments.

An account for how instruments may be designed and engineered for subglacial exploration, with a rigorous risk analysis was performed by colleagues at NOC and published in 2012 in the Journal of Glaciology.



Publicity

During fieldwork in 2012/13, sigificant public and media interest was serviced using two websites:

www.ellsworth.org.uk

www.ellsworthlive.org.uk



Although attempts to access Lake Ellsworth were unsuccessful this year, the programme has delivered a great deal in terms of instrument and programme design and discussions are currently being held with NERC on how to undertake a second field season.
Exploitation Route Our work is of great interest to the public, which we have serviced using programme websites. In particular we have been keen to involve Children in the programme, to help them understand matters relating to science, environment and engineering. Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty means that exploitation of Antarctic resources is forbidden.

The main areas for exploitation lie in intellectual property, which is partiuclarly of interest to the media and the public.
Sectors Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.ellsworth.org.uk
 
Description To build the SCAR code of conduct on Antarctic subglacial exploration, adopted by the 2012 Antarctic Treaty Meeting.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Breaking the Ice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My talk on subglacial Antarctica provoked many questions about the nature of Antarctic fieldwork, and indeed Antarctica's role in global climate change

Distribution of papers and weblinks via my talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.scienceoxford.com/live/whats-on-so/breaking-the-ice-science-in-the-coldest-place-on-earth
 
Description DECC talk, why is Antarctica changing? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An invited talk to DECC on how Antarctica is changing and why we should care
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Exploration of subglacial lake ellsworth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Huge public and media interest in the lake ellsworth field programme

Huge level of media and public interest in the Lake Ellsworth programme, serviced via a website and satellite phone calls.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
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 Out of Ice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Lake Ellsworth project appeared as a major item in Liz Ogilvie's Out of Ice Exhibition in London, 7/1-9/2/0214 at the AmbikaP3, University of Westminster.



Siegert gave two talks at the Exhibition, on the Lake Ellsworth programme and on subglacial topography in Antarctica. Dom Hodgson also presented work at the Exhibition's conference.

Many people in the art world and from the general public were engaged in the Lake Ellsworth programme
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://outofice.org.uk/
 
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/
 
Description Science Uncovered 2016 - exploration of East Antarctica 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The ICECAP2 programme ran a exhibit at the Natural History Museum's Science Uncovered event, London, 30 September 2016. The audience was in the 1000s, and come from the public, academic, policy and businesses.
The exhibit demonstrated how polar exploration is undertaken, what the results are and how they are important for understanding sea level change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/whats-on/programs/nhm/science_uncovered_2016.html?date=30.09.2016