A Lake Under The Ice

Grace Higgins | December 28th, 2017

Can a lake be called a lake if it is under the ice? Apparently so the Lake Vostok is one of the largest subglacial lakes in the world.

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Researchers believe the lack has been cut off from light and contact for over millennia. It is now estimated to be buried under about 2 miles of ice, making it one of the world’s most extreme environments. So does anything really live down there in the freezing depths?

The lake itself is 143 miles long and 31 miles wide, it is believed to be about 800 meters deep. It sits near the South Pole in East Antarctica and its existence was first suggested in the 1960s but it took until the modern airborne radar experiments in 1996 to be confirmed. It is deep and mysterious, with no actual way into the lake. The water is replenished by the melting ice on top of it. So how does it not freeze?

The geothermal heat of the earth ensures that the lake temperature hovers around 27 degrees Fahrenheit, but the immense pressure from the ice slab above the lake does not allow the water to freeze meaning it stays liquid. And as always where there is water there is life.

Microbes have been collected from Lake Vostok and they have proved to be fascinating. Because remember no sunlight reaches this lake, it is just deep and dark. The ecosystem that has been created here appears to function off the chemicals you find in rocks. It means organisms live by feeding off the energy you find in minerals. Yet the team who made this discovery also found bacteria that is known to be present in the digestive system of fish! Does this mean that there is a whole world of life in the lake that is yet to be discovered or just that it was once connected to the ocean?

Given the tremendous difficulty of accessing the lake, it does not look like we’ll ever know, but it does paint an interesting picture of how life always finds a way to thrive on our beautiful planet. And who knows maybe fish from prehistoric days are still locked down there living happily!

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