• areas of particular interest to ongoing or planned scientific research; and

  • areas of outstanding geological, glaciological, or geomorphological features.

Although no subglacial lake has so far been proposed as an ASPA, the legislation would allow one or several to be so designated under the categories listed above. Such a proposal could be put forward by any Consultative Party or by SCAR.

Managed Scientific Research

Exploring subglacial aquatic environments, and especially lakes, is an activity that is expected to begin, and grow, in the coming years. The pursuit of scientific knowledge needs to be balanced against cleanliness, yet it is expected that as technology develops, so will the ability to sample more cleanly and explore these lakes. As a simple rule, exploration of these lakes should always be conducted with the cleanest technology possible.

However, the relatively high number of known subglacial lakes affords the possibility of designating lakes for different kinds of exploration, recognizing that one type of investigation may undermine other types of science in that particular lake. For example, remotely operated vehicles or probes could be released into a lake to measure and transmit back physical properties of the lake such as temperature, water current velocities and directions, and salinity. Such probes may not be held to the highest standards of cleanliness that would be required of sampling microbes, probably making the lake unsuitable for microbiology.

It is important that lessons learned in exploring a particular lake be transmitted quickly and effectively to the broader scientific community and that all progress in this field be adequately documented for each site. In this way, technology can advance as quickly as possible. Also, the issue of the interconnectedness of lakes, which if high could restrict the exploration strategy or if low would open the exploration strategy, needs to be carefully monitored and updated.

CONCLUSIONS

In approaching subglacial aquatic research in the immediate short term, the practical imperatives of the Antarctic Treaty—scientific collaboration, logistic cooperation, and the free exchange of data—provide an unrivaled framework for planning and development. There are important scientific goals to achieve in a difficult and expensive operating environment where jointly planned international activities will maximize the value to all humankind while ensuring that the latest technology is available to pursue these objectives. Evidence from deep ice core drilling shows just how effective this approach can be.

To ensure that the best possible advice was available to all countries interested in subglacial lakes, SCAR established a Group of Experts (which now has 14 specialist members from nine countries) and publishes its workshop outputs online. Research into the subglacial lakes is now one of the five major programs adopted by SCAR for the next 5-10 years, and details of research proposals are on the SALE (Subglacial Antarctic Lake Exploration) web site at http://salepo.tamu.edu/scar_sale. This web site also provides links to both the International Polar Year (IPY) SALE UNITED (Unified Team for Exploration and Discovery) project, which lists all the proposed subglacial



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement