Subglacial Lakes Beneath Canadian Arctic Might Help Scientists In Search For Extraterrestrial Life

Last month, a team of researchers published a study describing two extremely salty, subglacial lakes in the Canadian Arctic, possibly marking the first-ever isolated hypersaline subglacial lake discovery. These lakes were found in Devon Island in Nunavut, buried beneath more than 2,300 feet (700 meters) of ice, and the researchers believe that their conditions are similar to the ones found in Mars or in Jupiter’s moon Europa, as discussed in two recent interviews.

In a recent interview with CTV News in Canada, one of the study’s authors, Montana State University associate professor of geology Mark Skidmore, discussed his team’s findings, reiterating that the conditions in the two Canadian Arctic subglacial lakes resemble those on Mars and Europa. The water in both lakes is believed to be about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius), with salinity estimated to be about four to five times higher than that of seawater, and as Skidmore explained, the two lakes also do not draw any energy from the sun, with the Devon ice cap likely having buried the bodies of water and isolated them from their surroundings about 120,000 years ago.

As noted by Science Daily, subglacial lakes are generally a good starting point for any scientist researching on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but the extreme salinity of the two Canadian Arctic lakes makes them especially promising prospects for further research.

Speaking to Daily Texan Online, another researcher and study co-author, University of Texas Institute of Geophysics postdoctoral fellow Jamin Greenbaum, explained why the lakes are such good analogs for Europa.

“We think that, in places like [Europa], there are water bodies that are very salty. We think that these lakes in Canada could be direct analogs, or very similar, to what we expect to find on Europa.”

As further noted by Daily Texan Online, the findings from the study could be helpful in the coming years as NASA prepares to launch its Europa Clipper mission in the 2020s and hopefully learn more about the moon’s geographical features.

While it remains unknown whether the Canadian Arctic lakes are home to microbial forms of life, Skidmore told CTV News that he is optimistic about the prospect as he is planning to get funding so that he and his colleagues can use hot-water drilling techniques to access the lake water. This is in addition to his team’s partnership with the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, which will involve a “more detailed airborne geophysical survey” in an effort to glean more information on the lakes and their features.