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

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Earth Science and Engineering

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

10 25 50

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

publication icon
Jeofry H (2018) A deep subglacial embayment adjacent to the grounding line of Institute Ice Stream, West Antarctica in Geological Society, London, Special Publications

publication icon
Jordan TA (2018) Anomalously high geothermal flux near the South Pole. in Scientific reports

publication icon
Kennicutt M (2016) Delivering 21st century Antarctic and Southern Ocean science in Antarctic Science

publication icon
Makinson K (2016) Clean subglacial access: prospects for future deep hot-water drilling. 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 Design for a hot water drill.
Design and construction of a deep subglacial probe for direct measurement and sampling
Cleanliness protocols and laboratory techniques
A comprehensive environmental evaluation of the programme
Exploitation Route We have been highly influential on other programmes, having offered advice to US, Russian, Taiwan and Chinese programmes.

We convened TWO international conferences on Antarctic subglacial lake exploration.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.ellsworth.org.uk/
 
Description A SCAR code of conduct on Antarctic subglacial exploration, adopted by the Antarctic treaty in 2012. This was updated in 2017 and accepted at the Treaty meeting in 2018.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description BBC News article on our research hypothesis and activity 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A BBC news article was published on their website, receiving world-wide interest from Newspapers and other outlets, including Chinese National TV.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35303779
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35303779
 
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 EGU presentation, April 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation to the European Geoscience Union, Vienna, 2016.

The presentation was picked up by New Scientist, which ran a story on the discovery of a major subglacial lake in East Antarctica. Several other news outlets covered the story as well, including the Daily Mail.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35303779
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2085523-huge-never-before-seen-lake-spotted-hiding-under-antarctic-ice/
http://www.scientias.nl/enorm-meer-ontdekt-ijs-antarctica/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3554407/There-huge-lake-lurking-beneath-Antarctic-ice-Hidden-feature-hold-unique-forms-life-say-scientists.html
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.icecap2.org/
 
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 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