Lakes isolated beneath Antarctic ice could be more amenable to life than thought

Publication of Laboratoire de physique in Science Advances on February 17, 2021.

Lakes underneath the Antarctic ice sheet could be more hospitable than previously thought, allowing them to host more microbial life.

This is the finding of a new study that could help researchers determine the best spots to search for microbes that could be unique to the region, having been isolated and evolving alone for millions of years.

The work could even provide insights into similar lakes beneath the surfaces of icy moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, and the southern ice cap on Mars.

Lakes can form beneath the thick ice sheet of Antarctica where the weight of ice causes immense pressure at the base, lowering the melting point of ice. This, coupled with gentle heating from rocks below and the insulation provided by the ice from the cold air above, allows pools of liquid water to accumulate.

More than 400 of these ’subglacial’ lakes have been discovered beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, many of which have been isolated from each other and the atmosphere for millions of years.

This means that any life in these lakes could be just as ancient, providing insights into how life might adapt and evolve under persistent extreme cold conditions, which have occurred previously in Earth’s history.

Expeditions have successfully drilled into two small subglacial lakes at the edge of the ice sheet, where water can rapidly flow in or out. These investigations revealed microbial life beneath the ice, but whether larger lakes isolated beneath the central ice sheet contain and sustain life remains an open question.

Read full article on the Imperial College London website  

Source:  Dynamic flows create potentially habitable conditions in Antarctic subglacial lakes. Couston, L. A., & Siegert, M. (2021).  


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