While subglacial lakes have been suspected, and speculated about, for more than 50 years, recent analyses of historical and new data have shown that liquid water environments are common beneath the vast Antarctic Ice Sheet. Airborne radar surveys have now documented more than 145 subglacial lakes, the largest being Lake Vostok located 4 km beneath the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet (Figure 1).
The public and scientists alike have been intrigued by the possibility that these environments harbor life in conditions not previously studied on our planet. Planning for the exploration and study of these unique environments has focused international attention on the challenges presented by the way science is conducted in such settings while providing for environmental protection and stewardship. Exploration of subglacial environments will require careful and detailed planning, adoption of environmental protocols, and international cooperation.