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CECs, Centro de Estudios Científicos (Center for Scientific Studies) is a private, non-profit corporation, devoted to the development, promotion and diffusion of scientific research. CECs was founded in 1984 as the Center for Scientific Studies of Santiago and has since been directed by physicist Claudio Bunster.

“If you plan to make a voyage of discovery, choose a ship of small draught”
Captain James Cook rejecting the large ships offered by the Admiralty for the search of a new continent.
 
CECs scientists discover a new subglacial lake in West Antarctica. PDF Print E-mail

The finding is reported in an article published on May 22, 2015 in "Geophysical Research Letters", entitled: "Subglacial Lake CECs: discovery and in situ survey of a privileged research site in West Antarctica".

 

The lake is the first to be discovered by researchers from outside the US and Europe. It is an encapsulated body of water and it is particularly stable. Subglacial lake CECs is located at only 10 geographic degrees from the South Pole, and it has an area of at least 18 square kilometers.

 

 

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Early indications of a subglacial lake were detected in the summer of 2014, at an approximate latitude of 80 S and only 10 geographic degrees from the South Pole, while “CECs 1” mobile station was journeying across the central plateau of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. On 21st January 2014, on-the-ground radar measurements showed subglacial returns that were different from those observed until then, indicating the presence of a massive body of water at a depth of a little more than 2.6 kilometres below the ice. An immediate first mapping with ice-penetrating radar confirmed the finding. The research team returned in 2015 and completed an exhaustive mapping. These results were then analysed in detail and the findings sent to the specialised journal “Geophysical Research Letters”, where the published scientific article appeared just recently, on 22nd May of this year. The authors are all members of the Glaciology Laboratory at CECs: Andrés Rivera, José Uribe, Rodrigo Zamora y Jonathan Oberreuter.

 

 

 

The subglacial Lake CECs is found in a boundary area between three major glaciers of Western Antarctica, where large ice streams originate, and for this reason, the lake site is in an area of low disturbance where ice movement is almost non-existent. This means the lake can be characterised as an extremely stable body of water, with minimal interchange of matter with its environment, making it practically an encapsulated lake – which favours the hypothesis that this lake might support life, as it would have developed under conditions of extreme isolation.

 

“The lake had remained invisible to satellite laser systems (IceSat) because these do not disturb the surface, nor do they cause variations in the height of the ice and thus the lake is not experiencing large volumetric changes, as it situated in a deep pit, well below sea level”, explained Andrés Rivera, CECs glaciologist and expedition member.

 

Access to Lake CECs is particularly simple from a logistical point of view, with it being only 160 kilometres from Union Glacier, where large aircraft can land, conditions which contributed significantly to discovery of the lake being made directly by on-the-ground exploration.

 

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To date, it has only been possible to drill into the covering ice and introduce a probe into one subglacial lake, Lake Whillans. Biological research findings published five months ago indicate that this subglacial lake, only 600 metres deep, has microbial life and even fish, partly because it has a greater interchange of matter and water, which after passing through the lake reaches the Ross Sea and thus it does not represent a closed system. Hence the scientific need to find a candidate sufficiently accessible so that eventual drilling would be viable, while at the same time having a body of water that is the most encapsulated possible.

 

“For years the scientific community has been determined to test the hypothesis that even in the extreme conditions of a closed subglacial lake we might find life, hopefully different from that which we already know, as from a scientific point of view, this would be the closest we may get to travelling to another planet and finding life there”, added Rivera.

 

Following discovery of the lake and its geophysical exploration, the next challenge, needless to say not a minor one, is to drill and introduce a non-polluting probe. Lake CECs provides a unique opportunity to meet this challenge precisely because of the exceptional combination of its low disturbance and high residence time of water, together with being of comparatevely simple access.

 

With respect to this exciting finding, Andrés Rivera points out: “it is very encouraging to confirm that here and now in the 21st century, significant geographical discoveries can be made, honouring the tradition of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration at the beginning of the 20th century”.

 

Our improved scientific knowledge, from more than 20 expeditions, can be summarised as a principle of Antarctic exploration that applies as much to airbourne research as to overland studies: long-distance mobility. We are convinced that it is this practice that has helped Chile to reach the “major leagues”, using modest resources for the scale of what is achieved.