U.S. scientists successfully drilled into Lake Whillans, a subglacial expanse of water hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, they reported on Sunday (Jan. 27).
Over the next couple of days, equipment will be lowered down the 2,625-foot (800-meter)-deep hole to carry out measurements and to obtain water samples for further study on board container-based scientific laboratories on the surface. As of Sunday (Jan. 27), the WISSARD team said they may have penetrated the lake surface.
Meanwhile, geologists and glaciologists are eager to learn more about water transport and ice dynamics beneath the frozen Antarctic surface. Lake Whillans lies beneath a 66-foot (20-meter) wide ice stream that moves about a meter per day, as opposed to something like a meter per year for the surrounding icecap. Little is known about the possible relation between ice streams on the surface and subglacial river systems, which have only been discovered — and charted through radar — over the past couple of decades.
"Lake Whillans is just one of a few hundred interconnected lakes," said Powell, "and radar observations have revealed that it fills and drains in a five-to-10-year cycle. We want to find out what causes these cycles. And knowing more about ice dynamics is important to better understand the effects global warming might have on the Antarctic continent. Thanks to WISSARD, we will be able for the first time to use real field data as input in our glacialogical models."