reversible, or acceptable change caused by the introduction of either naturally occurring Earth surface materials and life forms or anthropogenic substances.
Develop a sound scientific basis for contamination standards considering a number of steps. These steps include delineation of the most likely sources of contamination, description of methods that might be used to reduce these introductions (e.g., physical cleaning, sterilization, coating of surfaces with antifouling materials), and discussion of methodologies that might be used to demonstrate that the acceptable levels of “cleanliness” have been achieved. This analysis should recognize that different stages of exploration may be subject to differing levels of environmental concern and that some activities have been reviewed and approved for use elsewhere. The committee was asked to consider the protocols developed for planetary protection over the past 40 years by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and assess their utility, applicability, transferability, and adaptability to subglacial lake environment exploration and research.
Recommend next steps needed to define an overall exploration strategy. The committee was asked to use existing planning documents and lessons learned from previous activities that have penetrated and potentially contaminated subglacial environments as a starting point, to consider:
The merits and disadvantages of existing technology with respect to contamination, highlighting additional technological development that is needed;
Procedures and additional scientific studies to ensure that the best available environmentally and scientifically sound practices are adhered to and contamination risks are reduced to acceptable levels during the entry and sampling of subglacial lake environments;
Costs and benefits in terms of scientific outcomes of exploring now versus later; and
Potential targets among the many Antarctic lakes.
The committee appreciates the presentations and supplementary materials provided by the scientific community and members of the SCAR SALE group. The NRC committee’s findings and recommendations are based on its analysis of the materials and briefings received and the committee’s expert judgment. Committee members were drawn from four countries and have expertise in environmental protection and stewardship, Antarctic Treaty policy, planetary protection, astrobiology, microbial ecology in extreme environments, genomics, glaciology, subglacial processes, geochemistry, polar contamination prevention, and drilling and sampling technologies.
This report addresses the environmental and scientific protection standards needed to responsibly explore the subglacial aquatic environments. The motivations for this study are to ensure wise stewardship of these unique environments, including strict observance of environmental protection responsibilities under domestic and international laws and treaties, and to determine how to collect the best possible samples for scientific study while minimizing site contamination and ensuring preservation for future scientific inquiry. The issue of environmental stewardship for the exploration of subglacial aquatic environments is important to many stakeholders and interested parties, including those from the international community. The committee sought to develop the scientific rationale for setting standards in a manner credible to this wide range of stakeholders and interested parties. The summary, introduction, and conclusion chapters address the issues in a general manner intended for a wide-ranging