Satellite imagery has revealed evidence of an enormous lake buried beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet.
The first hints of the lake, presented at the European Geosciences Union Meeting in Vienna this week, include a series of mysterious linear grooves, which appear to cut across more than 600 miles (1000 kilometers) of Princess Elizabeth Land, toward the eastern coast of Antarctica. According to the researchers who spotted the features in satellite imagery, some of them may represent the outflow from a long, ribbon shaped lake that covers nearly 400 square miles (1000 square kilometers).
“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,” Martin Siegert of Imperial College London told New Scientist.
If confirmed, the subglacial lake would rank among Antarctica’s largest, second only to Lake Vostok in size. But unlike Lake Vostok, which is buried in the remote heartland of East Antarctica, this lake is close to a coastline and a research station, making it in theory much easier to study.
That’s great news for biologists, who are fascinated by the isolated communities of extreme life forms found miles beneath the Antarctic ice. The organisms adapted to live in subglacial lakes may be the closest analog we’ve got to life on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, or Saturn’s Enceladus.
According to New Scientist, researchers from the US and China recently collected ice-penetrating radar data over Princess Elizabeth Land, which could confirm the presence of a subterranean swimming pool. One way or another, it looks like we’ll soon know whether we’ve found another spot on Earth to study alien life.
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