Future directions in subglacial environments research



Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments (SALE) exploration and study is poised to be a major focus of Antarctic science for the next decade or more. The foundation for an intensive period of SALE research and field efforts has been provided by substantial improvement in our understanding of these environments, the establishment of SALE research programs by the International Polar Year (IPY) Program Office and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the funding of several national SALE programs, independent guidance on environmental stewardship issues, and a series of international workshops, meetings, and conferences that have refined SALE scientific objectives. This article summarizes recent developments in subglacial environment exploration and study and describes future research needs.

In the 7 years since the report “Subglacial Lake Exploration: Workshop and Recommendations” (SCAR International Workshop, Cambridge, U.K., September 1999), our understanding of subglacial environments has greatly improved. Subglacial environments are continental-scale phenomena that occur under thick ice sheets [Siegert et al., 2005]. The importance and role of subglacial water are now recognized as central to many processes that have shaped the Antarctic continent and its ice sheets today and in the past. Subglacial environments include a range of features that differ in geologic setting, age, evolutionary history, limnological conditions, and size [Bell, 2006]. These environments are ‘natural’ Earth-bound macrocosms that in some instances trace their origins to a time before Antarctica became encased in ice [Bell, 2006].