Topographic and hydrological controls on Subglacial Lake Ellsworth, West Antarctica



[1] Subglacial Lake Ellsworth (SLE) was identified using reconnaissance data collected in the 1970s, here we present more detailed surveys. SLE lies beneath 3.2 km of ice in a subglacial valley in West Antarctica. It has an area of only ∼18 km2, is dissimilar to the large tectonically-controlled lakes beneath East Antarctica and is a strong candidate for in situ exploration. Our analysis indicates that the ice above SLE is floating on a fluid whose density is 950–1013 kg m−3. This could indicate freshwater, but certainly precludes seawater, or high salt, acid, or clathrate content. The water in the lake is unlikely to be produced solely by local melt; it is more likely delivered via subglacial drainage. Our surveys show no identifiable hydrological barrier to outflow, meaning SLE is effectively full; new water entering the lake is likely balanced by outflow, which would drain into another lake that we have also identified.