Study of underground lakes in Antarctica could be critical, prof says

COLLEGE STATION, June 5, 2007 The discovery of interconnected lakes beneath kilometers of ice in Antarctica could be one of the most important scientific finds in recent years, but proper procedures need to be established before investigation begins, says a Texas A&M University scientist who is a leader in the research efforts.

Mahlon Chuck Kennicutt II, professor of oceanography and director of the Sustainable Development Program in Texas A&Ms Office of the Vice President for Research, says the National Science Foundation and 11 countries involved in the research and exploration are seeking agreement on how best to study these unique environments, which include at least 145 lakes under Antarcticas massive ice sheets. Several of the lakes are immense, and one, Lake Vostok, is similar in size to Lake Ontario, roughly 5,400 square miles, scientists note.

Participants in the project known as The Russian Antarctic Expedition have announced their intentions to penetrate Lake Vostok during the coming Antarctic field season.

These lakes were rediscovered within the past 10 years or so, but no one yet has penetrated them and we want to make sure that the research is done properly and adheres to the highest environmental stewardship principles, says Kennicutt, who also serves as a director of the SALE (Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments) office, which is maintained at Texas A&M.

This has the potential to be one of the most important scientific discoveries in years, since sub-ice water appears to be an important player in many different processes fundamental to Antarctica and our planet.

We believe that these lakes are part of an interconnected system that spans the entire Antarctic continent, he adds. These bodies of water are several miles beneath the ice sheet which took millions of years to form, meaning these lakes have been undisturbed and disconnected from our atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. I

Contact: Keith Randall
Texas A&M University

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