Beneath the Antarctic ice is a world unlike any other. Cycles of freeze and thaw carve drainages, rivers, canyons and even lakes under what seems, from the surface, to be an endless expanse of white.
Now, researchers have drilled down into one of these hidden landscapes, sub-glacial Lake Whillans in western Antarctica. The lake is more like an under-ice wetland, researchers have found, 2,600 feet (800 meters) below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientists drilled into it using a warm-water drill in 2013. Publications of the results have been trickling out. They’ve revealed, for example, that some of Lake Whillans’ water comes from an ancient ocean; the seawater was trapped in the lake after the last interglacial period. The project also revealed the first microbial ecosystem in a sub-glacial lake. (Subsequent drilling projects have bored into the grounding line where land meets sea under the ice, revealing crustaceans and pink fish.)