Science Questions

Why is there a lake under the antarctic?

Sun, 19th Nov 2006

Part of the show Science in Antarctica

Question

David via email asked:

Since the Antarctic is landlocked, is it believed that underneath the ice but above the land (in other words sandwiched between the two), there is an ocean of water? And where does it come from? Also, what's melting the ice? Is it energy or heat coming from within the earth that's making the ice melt?

Answer

Well that's really interesting because one of the most exciting projects that people are involved with on Antarctica at the moment is looking for what's called sub-glacial lakes. They're using radar waves from the surface of the ice to look down. And they think what they've found is a whole series of lakes that are sitting above the rock but below the ice. Of course the really exciting question is, are they ancient life forms in there, and are they unique? And so that's what everybody's hoping to find the near future. As for what's melting the ice, that's a very good question and one that we all want to know the answer to. It is possible that it is what we call geothermal heat from the rocks underneath causing the bottom of the ice sheet to melt. It may be water that's been trapped there for millions of years, and that's what everybody is hoping for.

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