The Ohio State University at Marion

At the bottom of the world: peering under the ice into the unknown of a glacial lake

February 14, 2019
At the bottom of the world:  peering under the ice into the unknown of a glacial lake

Ohio State Marion Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences Dr. Joel Barker recently returned from Antarctica as a member of the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) project. The goal of the SALSA project was to sample a lake beneath 1 kilometer (0.7 miles) of ice on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. This lake, Mercer Subglacial Lake, would have been only the second lake that has been accessed and sampled in Antarctica.

The project was a success and the lake was accessed on Christmas day, 2018. The scientific team worked around the clock to collect water and sediment from Mercer Subglacial Lake to determine how the lake formed, how water is flowing beneath Antarctic ice, and what life is able to exist, and how it is able to function, under such unique conditions.

Dr. Barker’s work focused on examining the organic matter in the lake water. Organic matter is an important component of the lake ecosystem because it functions as food for any organisms that exist, and is also reflective of the types of organisms that might exist.

“This information helps us to understand who lives in a lake beneath a kilometer of ice, and how their able to survive,” said Barker,

“This is a pretty unique environment," he added. "You’d expect the temperatures to hover around freezing, there’s no sunlight, and pressures are enormous. Anything that lives down there would be alien to anything that we’d find on the earth’s surface”.

The SALSA project is funded by the National Science Foundation. For more information, please visit the SALSA web page (