A Moment of Science

Lakes Beneath the Ice

Did you know that there are huge, hidden lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheets? Learn more on this Moment of Science.

Lake Erie frozen in the winter

Photo: KillerPM (Flickr)

Lake Erie frozen in the winter

Did you know that there are huge, hidden lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheets?

In fact there are hundreds. Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact number and how big and deep they are. Some, like lake Vostok, are larger than the state of Connecticut, making Lake Vostok the largest known lake in the world.

Scientists are interested in these lakes for many reasons. For one thing, they’ve been buried under miles of ice for millions of years and had no contact with the outside world. It is possible, because of this, that the lakes could contain life forms we’ve never seen before. They could give scientists a clue as to what kinds of life might exist in the polar regions of other planets.

Scientists are learning how the lakes help shape the ice sheets and ice streams. Ice streams are solid rivers within ice sheets that move ice and melt water from the interior of Antarctica and dump them in the ocean. Scientists have found evidence that subglacial lakes act as a sort of lubricant for ice streams. The lakes also have an effect on sea level, because the more ice that flows into the ocean and melts, the higher the sea level.

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