Most of us think of Antarctica as a frozen, barren wasteland, but that wasn’t always the case. Millions of years in the past, Antarctica sported a much different landscape and a much different climate. The continent supported bustling, healthy ecosystems and a vivid array of plant and animal life, including dinosaurs. Antarctica was also, once upon a time, believed to be home to spectacular geology and thriving waterway systems that included lakes and rivers. Scientists know this because much of Antarctica’s ancient past is still there, albeit buried under layer upon layer of ice.
Now, scientific researchers believe that they have made a historic discovery that could allow them to tap into the hidden history of Antarctica and maybe of the earth itself. Why? Because scientists believe they have found a massive subglacial lake, nearly 62-miles long, and in a region of Antarctica fairly close to existing research facilities, reports Mother Nature News. According to scientists, if they have found what they believe they have found in Antarctica, the gigantic subglacial lake may be the second largest such lake on the planet. The only known larger subglacial lake on Earth is Lake Vostok, also in Antarctica.
Motherboard reports that the existence of Antarctica’s newly-discovered subglacial lake began to be suspected due to some compelling satellite images. The research team realized that what they were seeing in Antarctica looked very much like terrain above known subglacial lakes.
“We’ve seen these strange, linear channels on the surface, and are inferring these are above massive, 1000-kilometre-long channels, and there’s a relatively large subglacial lake there too.”
Researchers believe that the yet-to-be 100 percent confirmed lake in Antarctica is also connected to the a newly-discovered canyon. The canyon is now believed to be the most expansive canyon system on the planet and was discovered and confirmed using the same satellite technology that alerted scientists to the possibility of this massive subglacial lake in Antarctica.
“It’s the last un-researched part of Antarctica, so it’s very exciting news, but it’s still tentative pending full confirmation.”
Scientists have been extensively probing the area where Antarctica’s newly discovered lake is believed to exist and expect to be able to fully confirm its existence by May. They are using scientific air missions to aid in the confirmation; these flyovers of Antarctica come complete with radar that is capable of penetrating the thick ice to help confirm their discovery.
If scientists are correct about the existence of this subglacial lake in Antarctica, it has most likely been completely trapped underneath layers of ice for 25 million years, isolated and sealed completely away from the outside world. Biologists are thrilled at the idea that Antarctica’s newly-discovered lake may potentially contain living ancient lifeforms that could be cataloged and studied.
Following the late-20th century discovery of the largest subglacial lake in the world, Antarctica’s Lake Vostok, scientists began to attempt to probe the sealed-off waters for ancient, potentially unknown life. Signs of life were ultimately discovered at the Antarctic lake, lending credence to the idea that this new lake in Antarctica may also be home to living creatures. While it’s possible that the newest lake discovered in Antarctica may contain only microbial life, if anything, scientists are holding out hope for more exotic, even alien-like, complex life that has evolved to survive in lakes punishing ecosystem.
During the research of Lake Vostok, glacial archaeologists announced that they had found over 3,500 different DNA sequences belonging to bacteria, eukaryotes, and archaea specimens. Some of those organisms, according to Russian scientists, didn’t match anything currently known. Researchers in Antarctica are hoping for more of the same when they begin to take samples from Antarctica’s newest known lake.
Scientists are already giddy with excitement and making plans for future exploration under the ice of Antarctica, slated to begin as soon as the existence of the continent’s newest lake is confirmed. Research teams expect it to be much less of a challenge to conduct their studies at this Antarctic lake than it was at Lake Vostok. This is due to the new lakes proximity to an existing, fully-equipped research station.
If scientists are correct, and their timeline for confirmation is too, it may only be a matter of months before Antarctica begins to reveal some of its most ancient secrets.
[Image Courtesy Of Frances M. Ginter/Getty Images]