Antarctic Science

Physical Sciences

A fourth inventory of Antarctic subglacial lakes

Andrew Wrighta1 c1 and Martin Siegerta1

a1 School of GeoSciences, Drummond Street, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK


Antarctic subglacial lakes are studied for three main scientific reasons. First, they form an important component of the basal hydrological system which is known to affect the dynamics of the ice sheet. Second, they are amongst the most extreme viable habitats on Earth and third, if sediments exist on their floors, they may contain high-resolution records of ice sheet history. Here we present a new inventory of locations, dimensions and data sources for 379 subglacial lakes. Several major advances are responsible for the rise in the total number of lakes from the 145 known at the time of the last inventory in 2005. New radar datasets have been collected in previously unexplored regions of the ice sheet while digital data collection and processing techniques have allowed improvements to lake identification methods. Satellite measurements of ice surface elevation change caused by the movement of subglacial water have also been found to be widespread in Antarctica, often in places where radar data are absent. These advances have changed our appreciation of the Antarctic subglacial environment and have expanded our understanding of the behaviour of subglacial lakes.

(Received October 26 2011)

(Accepted May 05 2012)

(Online publication July 06 2012)

Key words

  • active surface height change features;
  • Antarctic basal conditions;
  • gravitational anomaly survey;
  • hydrology;
  • ice penetrating radar;
  • seismic survey