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Huge Subglacial Lake Discovered in East Antarctica – Sci-News.com

Named Lake Snow Eagle, the newly-discovered subglacial lake is approximately 42 km in length and 370 km2 in area, making it one of the largest subglacial lakes in Antarctica.
Lake Snow Eagle lies in a canyon in East Antarctica covered by a thick ice sheet. Image credit: University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.
Revealed by heavily instrumented polar research aircraft, Lake Snow Eagle is lies in a km-deep canyon in the highlands of Princess Elizabeth Land, a few hundred km from the coast.
Because it lies relatively close to the coast, researchers think that this lake might contain information about how the East Antarctic Ice Sheet first began and the part played by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a ring of cold water circling the continent that scientists think is responsible for keeping it cool.
“This lake is likely to have a record of the entire history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, its initiation over 34 million years ago, as well as its growth and evolution across glacial cycles since then,” said Dr. Don Blankenship, a senior research scientist in the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Our observations also suggest that the ice sheet changed significantly about 10,000 years ago, although we have no idea why.”
The first hint that Lake Snow Eagle and its host canyon existed emerged when Dr. Blankenship and colleagues spotted a smooth depression on satellite images of the ice sheet.
To confirm it was there, they spent three years flying systematic surveys over the site with ice penetrating radar and sensors that measure minute changes in Earth’s gravity and magnetic field.
“I literally jumped when I first saw that bright radar reflection,” said Shuai Yan, a graduate student in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
What Yan saw was the lake’s water that, unlike ice, reflects radar like a mirror.
Along with the gravity and magnetic surveys, which lit up the underlying geology of the region and the depth of water and sediments, Yan constructed a detailed picture of a jagged, highland topography with Lake Snow Eagle nestled at the base of a canyon.
According to the team, the lake is about 42 km long, 14.5 km wide and 198 m deep.
The sediments at the bottom of the lake are 305 m deep and might include river sediments older than the ice sheet itself.
“This lake’s been accumulating sediment over a very long time, potentially taking us through the period when Antarctica had no ice at all, to when it went into deep freeze,” said Dr. Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at Imperial College London.
“We don’t have a single record of all those events in one place, but the sediments at the bottom of this lake could be ideal.”
The discovery is described in a paper in the journal Geology.
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Shuai Yan et al. A newly discovered subglacial lake in East Antarctica likely hosts a valuable sedimentary record of ice and climate change. Geology, published online May 9, 2022; doi: 10.1130/G50009.1

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