Recommendation 10

Allowances should be made for certain objects and materials to be placed into experimental subglacial aquatic environments for scientific purposes—for example, for monitoring or tracing dynamics. These additions should follow the microbiological constraints in Recommendation 7 and include discussion of environmental risk versus scientific benefit analysis as required by the Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation.

Recommendation 11

As the initial step to define an overall exploration strategy, the United States, together with other interested parties, should begin immediately to obtain remote sensing data to characterize a wide range of subglacial aquatic environments. As a second step, preliminary data and samples should be obtained from subglacial aquatic environments as soon as practicable to guide future environmental stewardship, scientific investigations, and technological developments.

Recommendation 12

Remote sensing of the potential aquatic environments beneath the Antarctic ice sheet is underway but is far from complete. The following actions should proceed in order to make a decision about which subglacial aquatic environments should be studied in the future:

  • Continent-scale radio-echo sounding data should be assembled and subglacial aquatic environments identified;

  • All regions where the basal melt-rate is likely high should be identified;

  • Detailed radio-echo sounding of known lakes should be done;

  • A hydrologic map of the subglacial drainage system for each catchment should be constructed;

  • Potential target environments should be identified based on the subglacial drainage system.

Once potential research sites are identified, the likelihood of attaining scientific goals should be evaluated based on the representativeness for other lakes and settings, for accessibility, and for the constraints of logistics and cost. The committee recognizes that plans are underway to sample Lake Vostok, and in the longer term Lake Ellsworth and Lake Concordia. The data collected from these endeavors should be used to assess whether the levels of cleanliness suggested in Recommendation 7 are appropriate.

Recommendation 13

Research and development should be conducted on methods to reduce microbial contamination throughout the drilling, sampling, and monitoring processes, on methods to determine the background levels of microbes in glacial ice and lake water, and on development of miniaturized sampling and monitoring instruments to fit through the drilling hole. The following methods and technologies need to be improved or developed:

  • A standard method to ensure cleanliness for drilling, sampling, and monitoring equipment that can be verified in the field;

  • New ways of drilling through the ice sheet that include drilling fluids that would not be a substrate for microbial growth;

  • Inert tracers in the drill fluids or fluids used to enter the lake to track the level and distribution of contaminants within the lake;

  • Methods to determine baseline levels of microbes in the glacial ice and subglacial waters;

  • Instrumentation scaled to fit through a bore hole, to measure chemistry and biology of these environments and transmit data back to the ice surface;

  • Methods to provide clean access to the lake water for extended periods.

The committee recognizes that plans are underway to sample Lake Vostok, and in the longer term, Lake Ellsworth and Lake Concordia. The data collected from these endeavors should be used to better assess the requirements of future methodologies and technologies.

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