EFFORTS TO GUIDE SUBGLACIAL LAKE EXPLORATION

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR)1 is the international body that initiates, develops, and coordinates scientific research in the Antarctic region. In response to growing scientific and public interest over the exploration of subglacial lakes, SCAR established the Subglacial Antarctic Lake Exploration (SALE) group, composed of scientists from SCAR member nations. The SCAR SALE group has provided international organizing and planning for the exploration of subglacial lake environments. The main objectives of the SCAR SALE program are to understand the formation and evolution of subglacial lake processes and environments; determine the origins, evolution, and maintenance of life in subglacial lake environments; and understand the limnology and paleoclimate history recorded in subglacial lake environments.

One of the key scientific questions posed in the SCAR SALE program concerns the origins, evolution, and maintenance of life in subglacial lakes. The SCAR SALE group speculated that life in subglacial lakes could be unique; thus any attempt to sample the water, the sediment, or the organisms directly should ensure that the subglacial aquatic environment is not contaminated, especially by carbon substrates that might perturb the aquatic ecosystem. The SCAR SALE group recommended an integrated science plan to ensure that one type of investigation does not accidentally adversely affect other investigations; that sampling regimes plan for the maximum interdisciplinary use of the samples; and that all information is shared to promote greater understanding. The SCAR SALE group continues to foster international coordination and collaboration; however, the group has not examined stewardship issues in depth.

CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has requested guidance from the National Academies to suggest a set of environmental and scientific protection standards needed to responsibly explore the subglacial lake environments found under continental-scale ice sheets. In response, the National Research Council of the National Academies created the Committee on the Principles of Environmental and Scientific Stewardship for the Exploration and Study of Subglacial Environments. Specifically, the committee was asked to (see Appendix A for the Statement of Task):

  • Define levels of “cleanliness” for equipment or devices entering subglacial aquatic environments;

  • Develop a sound scientific basis for contamination standards recognizing that different stages of exploration may be subject to differing levels of environmental concern; and

  • Recommend the next steps needed to define an overall exploration strategy.

The committee was also charged to consider existing technology with respect to contamination and to highlight potential needs for technological development; to identify additional scientific studies that are needed to reduce contamination; to assess

1

SCAR is an interdisciplinary committee of the International Council for Science (ICSU). In addition to its primary scientific role, SCAR also provides objective and independent scientific advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and other organizations on issues of science and conservation affecting the management of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.



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