Antarctica: Hidden Lake Found Under Ice May Harbor Ancient Life

Recently in Antarctica, another hidden lake was found. Scientists believe Antarctica’s newest ribbon-shaped hidden lake is smaller than Lake Vostok, which was discovered hidden below Antarctic ice in 1996. New Scientist shared last week that the hidden lake may harbor life forms unique to Antarctica that are millions of years old.

Grooves in Antarctica ice discovered through the use of satellite imagery revealed the Antarctica hidden lake that researchers believe is second in size to Lake Vostok. Lake Vostok is Antarctica’s largest hidden lake at 100 miles long and 30 miles wide, covering a 4,830 square mile area. A pristine water sample collected from Lake Vostok in 2013 revealed that the subglacial lake water may have been shielded by Antarctica’s ice for 15 million to 25 million years.

That same water sample obtained from a borehole drilled through the Antarctica hidden lake surface ice also revealed that unusual forms of life could be living in Lake Vostok’s fossil water reserve, as reported by NBC News in 2013. Now, scientists are excited to find another hidden lake deep within Antarctica’s sheath of ice that in some places measures as thick as a mile. The new Antarctica hidden lake is reportedly much closer to a research station than Lake Vostok, making it easier for scientists to study any lifeforms that may be living within the lake’s ancient water.

Martin Siegert, one of the team members with Imperial College London who located the new Antarctica hidden lake, says grooves on the ice surface seen from satellite images show that the lake could measure at least 62 miles long by six miles wide. Siegert went on to say that they also spotted several long channels that extend from the hidden lake. According to Siegert, these channels could spread for more than 600 miles towards Antarctica’s eastern coast between Vestfold Hills and the West Ice Shelf on Princess Elizabeth Land.

“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. The potential discovery of large canyons and lakes could have a big impact on our understanding of tectonic and hydrological evolution in this part of the ice sheet.”

A team of China and U.S. collaborators has already flown over the area where the Antarctica hidden lake is believed to be located. Siegert says they’re meeting in May to look over the ice penetrating data that was gathered by the team of collaborators.

“It will be a very good test of our hypothesis about the lake and channels,” said Siegert.

Siegert believes the radar data will likely confirm their suspicions of the existence of a new Antarctica hidden lake.

Bryn Hubbard with the University of Aberystwyth, a research university located in Aberystwyth, Wales, says the area where the hidden lake is believed to be located is the last part of Antarctica that still remains unresearched. With a location less than 100 miles from the nearest research station, Siegert says scientists will have far better access to the new Antarctica hidden lake than they do to Lake Vostok.

“That should make it far easier to conduct vital investigations into the biology of the lake, to find out if it supports species unlike any others on the planet.”

Scientists compare Antarctica hidden lake environments to conditions that could resemble those of the ice-covered ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Living microorganisms have been confirmed in Lake Vostok’s ice core drillings, and scientists say this confirmation of life within the Antarctica hidden lake further strengthens the prospect that life could also be present on icy moons.

[Image by Stephen Lew/Shutterstock]

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