Newly Discovered Lake May Hold Secret to Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Rise and Fall

Peer-Reviewed Publication

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

The coast of Antarctica’s Princess Elizabeth
IMAGE: THE COAST OF ANTARCTICA’S PRINCESS ELIZABETH LAND, NEAR WHERE THE ICE SHEET MEETS THE SEA. NEWLY DISCOVERED LAKE SNOW EAGLE LIES A FEW HUNDRED MILES INLAND, UNDER THE SAME ICE SHEET. view more 
CREDIT: SHUAI YAN/UT JACKSON SCHOOL OF GEOSCIENCES

Scientists investigating the underside of the world’s largest ice sheet in East Antarctica have discovered a city-size lake whose sediments might contain a history of the ice sheet since its earliest beginnings. That would answer questions about what Antarctica was like before it froze, how climate change has affected it over its history, and how the ice sheet might behave as the world warms.

Revealed by heavily instrumented polar research aircraft, Lake Snow Eagle is covered by 2 miles of ice and lies in a mile-deep canyon in the highlands of Antarctica’s Princess Elizabeth Land, a few hundred miles from the coast.

“This lake is likely to have a record of the entire history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, its initiation over 34 million years ago, as well as its growth and evolution across glacial cycles since then,” said polar expert Don Blankenship, one of the paper’s authors and a senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics. “Our observations also suggest that the ice sheet changed significantly about 10,000 years ago, although we have no idea why.”

Because it lies relatively close to the coast, researchers think that Lake Snow Eagle might contain information about how the East Antarctic Ice Sheet first began and the part played by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a ring of cold water circling the continent that scientists think is responsible for keeping it cool.

The study appeared May 9 in the journal Geology.

The first hint that the lake and its host canyon existed emerged when scientists spotted a smooth depression on satellite images of the ice sheet. To confirm it was there, researchers spent three years flying systematic surveys over the site with ice penetrating radar and sensors that measure minute changes in Earth’s gravity and magnetic field. 

“I literally jumped when I first saw that bright radar reflection,” said the paper’s lead author, Shuai Yan, a graduate student at UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences who was flight planner for the field research that investigated the lake. 

What Yan saw was the lake’s water that, unlike ice, reflects radar like a mirror. Along with the gravity and magnetic surveys, which lit up the underlying geology of the region and the depth of water and sediments, Yan constructed a detailed picture of a jagged, highland topography with Lake Snow Eagle nestled at the base of a canyon. 

The newly discovered lake is about 30 miles long, 9 miles wide and 650 feet deep. The sediments at the bottom of the lake are 1,000 feet deep and might include river sediments older than the ice sheet itself. 

Moving forward, the researchers said getting a sample of the lake’s sediments by drilling into it would fill big gaps in scientists’ understanding of Antarctica’s glaciation and provide vital information about the ice sheet’s possible demise from climate change.

“This lake’s been accumulating sediment over a very long time, potentially taking us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, to when it went into deep freeze,” said co-author Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at Imperial College London. “We don’t have a single record of all those events in one place, but the sediments at the bottom of this lake could be ideal.”

Lake Snow Eagle was named after one of the aircraft used in its discovery. It is one of many features uncovered by ICECAP-2, an international collaboration to map the last unknown regions of East Antarctica by polar research teams from the U.S., U.K., China, Australia, Brazil and India. The team for this paper included scientists from UTIG, Scripps Institute for Oceanography, Imperial College London, the Australian Antarctic Division, and the Polar Research Institute of China. The research was supported by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation and funded by governments and institutions of the countries involved.


JOURNAL

Geology

DOI

10.1130/G50009.1 

METHOD OF RESEARCH

Observational study

SUBJECT OF RESEARCH

Not applicable

ARTICLE TITLE

A newly discovered subglacial lake in East Antarctica likely hosts a valuable sedimentary record of ice and climate change

ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE

9-May-2022

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Randle Dewees
May 10, 2022 11:15 am

Moving forward, the researchers said getting a sample of the lake’s sediments by drilling into it would fill big gaps in scientists’ understanding of Antarctica’s glaciation and provide vital information about the ice sheet’s possible demise from climate change.

Under 2 miles of ice…

Not Chicken Little
Reply to  Randle Dewees
May 10, 2022 11:23 am

“Climate Change” – Thar’s gold in them thar hills!

Paul Johnson
Reply to  Randle Dewees
May 10, 2022 11:26 am

“Climate Change” – an obligatory reference to ensure continued funding

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Randle Dewees
May 10, 2022 1:14 pm

My understanding is that the East Antarctic ice sheet started forming about 34 mya
after both the Drake and Tasman passages opened, thereby allowing cold circumpolar currents to dominate Antartica’s climate. I assume this ice sheet will possibly ‘demise’ when the geology changes, but, hey, I’m not a climate scientist.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Randle Dewees
May 10, 2022 2:54 pm

Up to 3 miles thick! Coldest temperatures ever recorded on earth in the past year. But obviously it’s all about to melt in a “warming world”. That’s very realistic.

ross
Reply to  Rich Davis
May 10, 2022 7:28 pm

Their best work will come from modeling

Bob Tisdale(@bobtisdale)
Editor
May 10, 2022 11:38 am

The article reads, “‘This lake’s been accumulating sediment over a very long time, potentially taking us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, to when it went into deep freeze,’ said co-author Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at Imperial College London. ‘We don’t have a single record of all those events in one place, but the sediments at the bottom of this lake could be ideal.'”

On the other hand, they might not be, and your research, Martin Siegert, will be yet another waste of taxpayer dollars.

Regards,
Bob

Richard Page
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
May 10, 2022 12:03 pm

At least they are getting out in the fresh air and making some actual, honest to God, real world observations, as opposed to sitting in front of a computer making shit up as they go along!

Reply to  Richard Page
May 10, 2022 4:33 pm

Flying in an instrumented heavily laden plane over the Antarctic sheet?
Doubtful, the researchers have that much say-so on who runs their instruments.

Usually, running instruments are restricted to well trained members of the applicable service branch.

Or did these researchers buy their own specialized plane, retrofit the entire plane with very expensive gear?
Then run the plane with students/researchers at the controls?

I doubt these researchers spent much time in Antarctica. If they got to ride a couple of flights, that is possible, but would be surprising. Running the instrumentation is very doubtful.

“I literally jumped when I first saw that bright radar reflection,” said the paper’s lead author, Shuai Yan, a graduate student at UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences who was flight planner for the field research that investigated the lake.”

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
May 10, 2022 12:48 pm

I think your comment is a bit unfair. The obligatory cantrips recited to the climate gods aside, there is no way to determine the value of the sedimentary record a priori. Until you go look, you can’t find out.

Rich Davis
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
May 10, 2022 2:56 pm

Whatever they find DJ, it will be “worse than we thought”!

Bob Tisdale(@bobtisdale)
Editor
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
May 10, 2022 8:10 pm

Did you miss the weasel word “could” in the boldface portion of the quote in my comment, D.J.?

My response to it was simply to point out the opposite might happen. There was nothing “unfair” about stating the obvious.

Regards,
Bob

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
May 10, 2022 11:46 pm

You’re grasping at straws, Bob. There was nothing wrong with the statement.

chris
May 10, 2022 11:58 am

good example of how science evolves, and that deniers or supporters of climate change must “do the work” before asserting things as facts that require lots of expensive-to-collect data to support (e.g., what does the data from your satellite indicate? what are the measurements you took in Antarctica?)

a win for science.

The Dark Lord
Reply to  chris
May 10, 2022 2:29 pm

there are NO deniers of climate change … there are people who dispute the causes of climate change … no a win for science

Reply to  chris
May 10, 2022 4:46 pm

a win for science.”

The flights and recorded data are science.

All of the speculations are either gussied up opinions or sheer fantasies.
A loss for science.

The authors clearly identified their desire to bore two miles of ice and another mile of water and sediments. If that water and sediments are what is actually under the ice.

fretslider
May 10, 2022 12:08 pm

“ three years flying ”

Look out John Kerry

Terry Abbott
May 10, 2022 12:48 pm

 “Our observations also suggest that the ice sheet changed significantly about 10,000 years ago, although we have no idea why.” Um not a climate a̶c̶t̶i̶v̶i̶s̶t̶ scientist but wasn’t that only a few thousand years after the ice age ended and the world began to heat up? You know warm weather = snow melts and things change. Or it could be the local penguins were driving SUVs. Just a couple of reasonable guesses, much like climate science.

Last edited 15 days ago by Terry Abbott
DMacKenzie
Reply to  Terry Abbott
May 10, 2022 3:55 pm

And don’t forget the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, the great flood recorded in Sumerian legend, Atlantis sinking and numerous other shepard’s campfire stories from about that time frame.

Keith Rowe
May 10, 2022 12:56 pm

There is zero chance that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will go away because of CO2 induced climate change. The only way we are coming out of this ice age is when Antarctica moves or gets reattached to another continent and changes the oceans currents or perhaps if there is enough downward push of warm dense saline water of a large inland sea that it displaces the cold waters that make up 90% of the oceans today. Otherwise nope, zero chance, there are reasons for being in an ice age and it’s not CO2.

May 10, 2022 3:28 pm

All fluff and speculation.

“What Yan saw was the lake’s water that, unlike ice, reflects radar like a mirror. Along with the gravity and magnetic surveys, which lit up the underlying geology of the region and the depth of water and sediments, Yan constructed a detailed picture of a jagged, highland topography with Lake Snow Eagle nestled at the base of a canyon.

 

The newly discovered lake is about 30 miles long, 9 miles wide and 650 feet deep. The sediments at the bottom of the lake are 1,000 feet deep and might include river sediments older than the ice sheet itself.

 

Moving forward, the researchers said getting a sample of the lake’s sediments by drilling into it would fill big gaps in scientists’ understanding of Antarctica’s glaciation and provide vital information about the ice sheet’s possible demise from climate change.

“This lake’s been accumulating sediment over a very long time, potentially taking us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, to when it went into deep freeze,” said co-author Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at Imperial College London. “We don’t have a single record of all those events in one place, but the sediments at the bottom of this lake could be ideal.”

Radar reflects from water. Yet, they got all of that detail, 650 foot deep lake, 1,000 feet deep sediments from gravity and magnetic surveys?

One gets a nagging suspicion that there is a stunning amount of speculation in this description.

This lake’s been accumulating sediment over a very long time, potentially taking us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, to when it went into deep freeze,” said co-author Martin Siegert”

An astonishing level of detail from zero evidence.
Lakes have incoming water sources and usually departing water exits. The alleged lake has neither.
Yet, the coauthor happily speculated back towards the dawn of time, only mentioning 34 million years ago as a possible start point. But, who knows, that lake could have existed back when there were dinosaurs?

MarkW
Reply to  ATheoK
May 10, 2022 4:38 pm

Light reflects from water, yet there is still light under the water.

RickWill
May 10, 2022 4:12 pm

So the surface of the water beneath the ice will be around 270K.

The only way water would remain at a depth of 3500m after 34 million years is if there is a geothermal heat source. It would be fully frozen at that depth within 100kYr unless there was significant heat input.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  RickWill
May 11, 2022 6:26 am

Good point.

TallDave
May 10, 2022 4:58 pm

the ice sheet’s possible demise from climate change

math is optional for journalism majors

even leaving aside the fact it’s 50 degrees below zero, that much energy transfer in our lifetimes would leave the planet a charred husk

 “Our observations also suggest that the ice sheet changed significantly about 10,000 years ago, although we have no idea why.”

odd that the start of the Holocene interglacial isn’t the obvious explanation, is it not supposed to be detectable in East Antarctic ice?

probably the sea level affected the Drake current

Last edited 15 days ago by TallDave
George T
May 10, 2022 5:29 pm

“Moving forward, the researchers said getting a sample of the lake’s sediments by drilling into it would fill big gaps in scientists’ understanding of Antarctica’s glaciation and provide vital information about the ice sheet’s possible demise from climate change.”

Here we go again. I doubt Antarctica ice sheet is going anywhere anytime soon. What about those submarine volcanoes beneath Antarctica? Does everything have to be predicated on climate change, hence anthropogenic “man caused?”

Geoff Sherrington
May 10, 2022 6:55 pm

That image with jagged ice on top of a blue hues countryside has a high chance of being photographically altered and non-natural. I would be happy to be proved wrong, when I would apologise. Geoff S

John
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
May 10, 2022 11:27 pm

I could be misinterpreting your comment, but the blue hills are a series of foreground mountains and the white ones are behind the blue ones, not directly on top. The blue will be caused by a shadow behind the person that took the photo. Thats my interpretation of the image, and no photoshop is required to take something similar

Geoff Sherrington
May 10, 2022 7:02 pm

Suppose that there was a watere-filled lake before the ice started to form. When the ice came, the same conditions that led to the ice being formed would plausibly have frozen the lake water.
Later, when ice is said to have covered this lakes, it would be ice on ice and there would be no significant sedimentation into the lake, apart from any that might have been there when it was a water lake.
Now covered by hundreds of metres of ice, the ‘lake’ would have stayed frozen up to now and would not give the same radar reflections as a water lake. For there to be water there now, there has to be an external heat source that is not global warming, because global warming would melt the latest ice first.
It remains conjecture whether there is an adequate geothermal heat source to melt the lake ice. Looking for volcanos under the ice can mainly reveal volcanic shapes, but hard to impossible to know if or when they have been active and able to melt the lake again. Geoff S

Nutty
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
May 12, 2022 1:34 pm

A geothermal heat source might lead water – old water of unknown age and containing some of this pesky CO2. Would require quite a budget for elucidation and roaming in calibrations and adjustments of contributions from various sources.

Peta of Newark
May 10, 2022 9:27 pm

Doncha just love the disconnect…..
They can look at sediments laid down 30+million years ago and deduce ‘Climate Change’
OK
Q: Why don’t they look at sediments## being created now, in ever greater amounts and deduce ‘Contemporary Climate Change’
A: Because they instinctively know they will not find CO2 as the root cause.

## Modern sediments = that brown/red/orange sometimes grey sludge that fills town & city centres after even very modest rainfalls.
Often to always caused by ploughing = cultivation of annual cereal crops (sugar)
Also deforestation and overgrazing, typically by sheep and goats.
Plus not least, drainage from roads, cities and houses

BBC Headline:”Sheringham seawater turns brown due to flooding.
(Sheringham is a very posh sort of place – mud matters coz it spoils the image they like to project)

Last edited 15 days ago by Peta of Newark
dk_
May 10, 2022 9:46 pm

“Here’s a new thing we want money to study. Donate now, and lots, so that we can say that it means whatever you want it to mean.”

Rich Davis
Reply to  dk_
May 10, 2022 11:29 pm

Not whatever…it means doom, doom I tells ye. Worse than we thought!

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