Washington, Jan 16 : Scientists have begun exploring an ancient lake hidden deep beneath Antarctica's ice sheet, which could yield vital clues to life on earth, climate change and future sea-level rise.
The study, being carried out by a four-man science team from the British Antarctic Survey, involves the exploration of Lake Ellsworth.
"This is the first phase of what we think is an incredibly exciting project," said Glaciologist Dr Andy Smith, who led the study.
According to him, the lake is 3.2km beneath the ice; long and thin and around 18 km in area.
"First results from our experiments have shown the lake is 105m deep. This means Lake Ellsworth is a deep-water body and confirms the lake as an ideal site for future exploration missions to detect microbial life and recover climate records," he said.
This ambitious exploration of 'subglacial' Lake Ellsworth, West Antarctica, involves scientists from 14 UK universities and research institutes, as well as colleagues from Chile, USA, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand.
"We are particularly interested in Lake Ellsworth because it's likely to have been isolated from the surface for hundreds of thousands of years," said Professor Martin Siegert from the University of Edinburgh.
"Radar measurements made previously from aircraft surveys suggest that the lake is connected to others that could drain ice from the West Antarctic Ice sheet to the ocean and contribute to sea-level rise," he added.
Lake Ellsworth's future exploration will be quite significant for scientists.
According to Profesor Siegert, around 150 lakes have been discovered beneath Antarctica's vast ice sheet and so far little is known about them.
"These lakes are important for a number of reasons. For example, because water acts as a lubricant to the ice above, they may influence how the ice sheet flows. Their potential for unusual life forms could shed new light on evolution of life in harsh conditions; lake-floor sediments could yield vital clues to past climate," said Siegert.
"They can also help us understand the extraterrestrial environment of Europa (one of the moons of Jupiter)," he added.
"If the survey work goes well, the next phase will be to build a probe, drill down into the lake and explore and sample the lake water. The UK could do this as soon as 2012/13," said Dr Smith.