Hidden Lake Found Deep Below Antarctic Ice May Hold Unknown Life Forms

Discovery News just reported that British scientists believe they have found a large hidden lake beneath the ice on the Antarctic continent. They also think the lake may “harbor life that has lain undisturbed for millennia.” The lake measures about 87 by 12 miles, and is connected to a large canyon system that is roughly 680 miles, which would make it the largest canyon in the world. The discovery of the hidden lake and canyon was actually made last year and the scientists announced it in the journal, Geology. The lake and canyon system were found in Princess Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica. The team that found the lake just recently talked to New Scientist and presented data about the newly discovered lake to the European Geo-sciences Union meeting in Vienna last week.

According to the data, the hidden lake is second only to Lake Vostok, another newly discovered lake, in size. Lake Vostok is 240 kilometers by 60 kilometers, or about 149 miles by 37 miles, but the hidden lake is much closer to a research station. The location would make it easier to study in detail, said Martin Siegert, who is a member of the team that located the hidden lake and canyon system. Satellite imagery also shows grooves on the ice surface that are similar to ones found above sub-glacial lakes and channels.


Siegert also said that a team of collaborators from the U.S. and China had recently flown over the region and gathered radar data that would most likely confirm the existence of the lake and canyon beneath the ice.

“We’re meeting in May to look at the data,” he said. “It will be a very good test of our hypothesis about the lake and channels.”

Siegert expects the existence to be a major boost for Antarctic science and research, if confirmed. The location of the lake will make it easier for conducting investigations into the biology of the lake, and to find out if it “supports species unlike any others on the planet,” said Siegert.


Earlier discoveries in the Antarctic found “unusual” life in Lake Vostok by Russian scientists in 2012 and again in 2013 when an American team of scientists found microbial life in Lake Whillans. The Russian findings were met by skepticism because the water samples had been contaminated with fluid used in drilling, but last year they had corrected their technique and began to drill a second time. The American findings found that the microbial life was in a density that was comparable to many of the world’s deepest oceans, and they also found a complex community of bacteria and archaea that was made up of at least 4,000 species.

A press release about the lake and canyon was released in January. Lead researcher, Dr. Stewart Jamieson, from the Department of Geography at Durham University in the U.K. talked about the discovery.

“Our analysis provides the first evidence that a huge canyon and a possible lake are located beneath the ice in Princess Elizabeth Land. It’s astonishing to think that such large features could have avoided detection for so long.

“This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the U.K. and yet we still know little about lies beneath the ice.”

Jamieson said that more was known about the surface of Mars than the bed of Antarctica. He said that if they could gain “better knowledge of the buried landscape we will be better equipped to understand how the ice sheet responds to changes in climate.”


Jameieson added that satellite data obtained by different organizations such as NASA, ESA, and the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, has helped identify this new landscape.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of a newly-discovered hidden lake and canyon and the hopeful discovery of hidden life forms there? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.

[Photo by Bernhard Staehli/Shutterstock]