If you were to visit Antarctica, you would see endless snow/ice covered lands as far as the eye could see. However, beneath the ice, researchers have found something else entirely.
Underneath the ice is an entirely different world that is made up of rivers, canyons, and even lakes. And recently, researchers began drilling into one of the most mysterious underwater regions known as subglacial Lake Whillians, which can be found in western Antarctica. During their drilling, scientists discovered that Lake Whillians was actually more of an under-ice wetland the lies 2,600 feet below the West Antarctic ice sheet.
The project, known as the Whillians Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“It is amazing to think that we did not know that this lake even existed until a decade ago.,’ said Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps, who initially discovered Subglacial Lake Whillans in 2007 from satellite data.
“It is exciting to see such a rich dataset from the lake, and these new data are helping us understand how lakes function as part of the ice-sheet system.”
Researchers also discovered that the sub-glacial Lake Whillians was mostly produced by ice melt and sea water from ancient marine sediments on the lake bed.
Thanks to the new information, scientists will be able to have a better understanding of the biogeochemistry and mechanics of the underwater lake. By understanding the regions better, they will be able to use that information to create improved models of how subglacial Antarctic systems truly work.
In January 2013, the WISSARD project began drilling through the ice sheet to obtain information regarding the Subglacial Lake Whillians. During their project, they collected samples of water and sediment, and then analyzed them. The results were published in a series of three published studies.
Researchers believe that by analyzing the area that they might be able to better understand how sea levels rise and the ice melts due to global warming.
One of the lead study authors, Brent Christner also spoke regarding the very active ecosystem contained in Lake Whillians. “We found not just that things are alive, but that there’s an active ecosystem,” and then he continued by saying, “If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn’t make this up.”
“We were surprised about the number of organisms,” Christner explained, “It’s really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface.”
And while this information gives us a much deeper view into what life would be like beneath the surface of the planet, according to Live Science, it could also give us a view regarding what life would be like on other planets. Think about it, if there are ice caps on Mars and icy exteriors of Jupiter’s moon Europa, what else could we find? We live in a universe that is full of neverending surprises and discoveries that are guaranteed to shock us time and time again.