Scientists Discover City-Sized Lake Beneath Antarctica

Scientists studying the underside of the world’s largest ice cap in Antarctica have discovered a lake the size of a city.

The lake, called Lake Snow Eagle, sits in a mile-deep canyon in the highlands of Antarctica’s Princess Elizabeth Land, a few hundred miles from the coast.

The area of ​​the lake is approximately 370 km2, or 142 square miles (30 miles long, 9 miles wide, and 650 feet deep) – about the same as the city of Philadelphia.

It is under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is one of the two large ice sheets in Antarctica and the largest ice sheet on the entire planet.

The sediments of Snow Eagle Lake may contain a history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet from its earliest days, scientists say.

The Princess Elizabeth Coast of Antarctica, near where the ice cap meets the sea. The recently discovered Snow Eagle Lake is a few hundred miles inland under the same ice cap. glacial

Snow Eagle Lake sits in a mile-deep canyon in the highlands of Antarctica's Princess Elizabeth Land, a few hundred miles from the coast

Snow Eagle Lake sits in a mile-deep canyon in the highlands of Antarctica’s Princess Elizabeth Land, a few hundred miles from the coast

WHAT IS AN ICE SHEET?

An ice sheet is a mass of glacial land ice extending over 20,000 square miles (50,000 square kilometers).

The two ice caps on Earth today cover most of Greenland and Antarctica.

During the last Ice Age, ice sheets also covered much of North America and Scandinavia.

Together, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets contain more than 99% of the freshwater ice on Earth.

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

They could reveal what Antarctica looked like before it froze over, how climate change has affected it, and how the ice sheet could change as the world warms.

Snow Eagle Lake, which is covered in two miles of ice, was revealed by an aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radar, which sends out radio waves and times how long it takes them to reflect.

“This lake is likely to have a record of the entire history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, from its initiation over 34 million years ago, and its growth and evolution through glacial cycles since then,” said study author Don Blankenship at the University. from Texas to Austin.

“Our observations also suggest that the ice sheet changed significantly around 10,000 years ago, although we don’t know why.”

The first sign of the lake’s existence was when scientists spotted a smooth depression in satellite images of the ice sheet.

To confirm its presence, they spent three years flying over the site with ice-penetrating radar and sensors that measure minute changes in Earth’s gravity and magnetic field. Unlike ice, water reflects radar like a mirror.

“I literally jumped the first time I saw this bright radar reflection,” said lead author Shuai Yan, also at the University of Texas at Austin.

A smooth low captured in a radar satellite image of East Antarctica has set a team of scientists led by the University of Texas at Austin on a path to find an undiscovered lake covered in miles of ice.  The outline of the lake is marked

A smooth low captured in a radar satellite image of East Antarctica has set a team of scientists led by the University of Texas at Austin on a path to find an undiscovered lake covered in miles of ice. The outline of the lake is marked

Scientists with one of the planes used to study the ice sheet in 2019. Shuai Yan (fourth from right), a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences, used data from the survey to locate and characterize Lake Snow Eagle

Scientists with one of the planes used to study the ice sheet in 2019. Shuai Yan (fourth from right), a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences, used data from the survey to locate and characterize Lake Snow Eagle

Because it sits relatively close to the coast, researchers believe Snow Eagle Lake may hold information about how the East Antarctic Ice Sheet began.

The sediments at the bottom of the lake are 1,000 feet deep and may include river sediments older than the ice sheet itself.

“This lake has been accumulating sediment for a very long time, which potentially took us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, until it became frozen,” said co-author Martin. Siegert, a glaciologist at Imperial College London.

“We don’t have a single record of all of these events in one place, but the sediments at the bottom of this lake might be ideal.”

Getting a sample of the lake’s sediments by drilling into it could provide vital information about the possible disappearance of the ice sheet due to climate change.

Lake Snow Eagle, named after one of the aircraft used when it was discovered, is one of many features discovered by ICECAP-2, an international collaboration.

ICECAP-2 aims to map the last unknown regions of East Antarctica by polar research teams from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Australia, Brazil and India.

The study was published today in the journal Geology.

SCIENTISTS FIND GROUNDWATER IN SEDIMENT DEEP UNDER ANTARCTIC ICE

For the first time, scientists have discovered a huge underground water system under the ice of Antarctica.

According to US experts, the groundwater reservoir lies beneath the Whillans Ice Stream in West Antarctica.

Groundwater is fresh water (from rain or melting ice and snow) that penetrates the ground and is stored in the tiny spaces (pores) between rocks and soil particles.

Such groundwater systems are likely common in Antarctica and affect how the continent responds to climate change – although researchers aren’t sure exactly how.

Groundwater may exist under similar conditions on other planets or moons that release heat from their interiors, the team says.

Read more: Scientists discover groundwater in sediments deep under Antarctic ice

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