Antarctica: terra incognita

Thursday 15th June 2017 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00

Martin Siegert, Professor of Geoscience, Co-director of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London

Studying the earth beneath Antarctica not only provides information about potential sea levels as Antarctic ice begins to warm but also has revealed lakes beneath thousands of feet of Antarctic Ice that could harbour unique life forms that may have existed in isolation for millions of years. Looking for life in Antarctic lakes correlates with looking for life in the solar system.

A hidden land of lakes, rivers, volcanoes, and even life is changing our image of Earth’s seventh continent forever.

Professor Martin Siegert leads the Lake Ellsworth Consortium - a UK-NERC funded programme that aims to explore a large subglacial lake beneath the ice of West Antarctica.

He has undertaken three Antarctic field seasons, using geophysics to measure the subglacial landscape and to understand what it tells us about past changes in Antarctica and elsewhere.

Antarctica may be hiding a large lake under its ice – second only to Lake Vostok in size - according to data presented at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna this year.

Such subglacial lakes are of great interest because of the possibility that they could harbour unique life forms that may have existed in isolation, locked under ice for millions of years.

Although it doesn’t quite beat Lake Vostok‘s 240-kilometre by 60-kilometre size, the new lake is much closer to a research station. This would make it easier to approach and study in detail, says Prof Siegert.

The team’s claim comes from satellite imagery, in which they identified grooves on the ice surface similar to those present above known subglacial lakes and channels.

Ribbon-shaped lake

“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,” said Siegert.

He says the lake is around 100 kilometres long by 10 kilometres wide and is ribbon-shaped.

The long channels and canyons that seem to extend from the lake appear to spread for more than 1000 kilometres towards the eastern coast of Antarctica on Princess Elizabeth Land, between Vestfold Hills and the West Ice Shelf.

Pole of ignorance

If the existence of the lake and the channels is confirmed, as Siegert expects, he says it will be a major boost for Antarctic science and for research on subglacial lakes.

That, says Siegert, 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.

Come and discover the lost world under this frozen kingdom for yourself at this event.




Venue: SAF Building, Imperial College London

Campus Map reference 33
on the Imperial College London Map