Evolutionary processes a focus of decade-long ecosystem study of Antarctic's Lake Vostok



As scientists probe for life in new habitats and try to understand the processes that triggered the origin and guided the evolution of life on Earth, environments beneath large ice sheets are beginning to emerge as key ecosystems. Modern subglacial environments are analogues both for the icy moons of Jupiter and the environmental stresses that led to widespread evolutionary radiation following the Neoproterozoic “snowball” Earth.

The largest modern analogue to these distant systems is Lake Vostok, a great Antarctic subglacial lake, and the international science community is developing a plan to systematically survey and explore this complex system over the next decade. Approximately the size of Lake Ontario, Lake Vostok lies beneath the 4 km thick East Antarctic ice sheet (Figure 1). The lake is much deeper than Lake Ontario—remotely measured water depths reach 670 m.