Clean access, measurement, and sampling of Ellsworth Subglacial Lake: A method for exploring deep Antarctic subglacial lake environments

Martin J. Siegert*, Rachel J. Clarke, Matt Mowlem, Neil Ross, Christopher S. Hill, Andrew Tait, Dominic Hodgson, John Parnell, Martyn Tranter, David Pearce, Michael J. Bentley, Charles Cockell, Maria Nefeli Tsaloglou, Andy Smith, John Woodward, Mario P. Brito, Ed Waugh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Antarctic subglacial lakes are thought to be extreme habitats for microbial life and may contain important records of ice sheet history and climate change within their lake floor sediments. To find whether or not this is true, and to answer the science questions that would follow, direct measurement and sampling of these environments are required. Ever since the water depth of Vostok Subglacial Lake was shown to be >500 m, attention has been given to how these unique, ancient, and pristine environments may be entered without contamination and adverse disturbance. Several organizations have offered guidelines on the desirable cleanliness and sterility requirements for direct sampling experiments, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Here we summarize the scientific protocols and methods being developed for the exploration of Ellsworth Subglacial Lake in West Antarctica, planned for 2012-2013, which we offer as a guide to future subglacial environment research missions. The proposed exploration involves accessing the lake using a hot-water drill and deploying a sampling probe and sediment corer to allow sample collection. We focus here on how this can be undertaken with minimal environmental impact while maximizing scientific return without compromising the environment for future experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberRG1003
Number of pages40
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number1
Early online date7 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. The draft Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE), on which this paper is based,has been prepared by the Lake Ellsworth Consortium and reviewed by the program’s Advisory Committee, which is made up of independent scientists and experts collectively with multidisciplinary knowledge. Particular thanks are given to Peter Barrett, Neil Gilbert,Chuck Kennicutt, Martin Melles, and Satoshi Imura for their constructive comments on a preliminary draft of this report. The draft CEE is made available at, which was circulated by the U.K. government to the governments of the other Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties for initial consideration at the XXXIV Meeting of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting held in Buenos Aires in 2011. Funding for this work was provided by NERC research grants AFI7–02 NE/D008638/1, from which baseline conditions have been established, and NE/G00465X/1,which supports the direct lake exploration. The Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is a multidisciplinary group of science, engineering, and support teams. Led by principal investigator Martin Siegert of the University of Edinburgh, consortium members are based in two of NERC’s Centers of Excellence, British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre, and within the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, and Durham. The consortium works also in partnership with the U.K. universities of Aberystwyth, Lancaster, Northumbria, and Queen’s University Belfast and with partners in the United States including Montana State University and Ohio State University, and CECS in Chile. For more information on the consortium, see


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