We know more about Mars than we know about Antarctica’s subglacial environment, but new information about its nature is changing the way we view the continent. The Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) project aims to uncover new knowledge about this newly explored biome through an integrative study of subglacial geobiology, water column and sedimentary organic carbon, and geobiological processes in one of the largest subglacial lakes in West Antarctica.

Over December 2018 – January 2019, SALSA will set up a field camp of 50 scientists, drillers, and support staff to drill 4,000 feet into the ice and sample from this scarcely studied environment. Located roughly 500 miles from the South Pole, team members will reach the study site using specialized tractors and ski equipped aircraft.

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Scientific Objectives

The Antarctic Subglacial environment is a dynamic ecosystem where life, ice, water, and rock form a web of complex interactions. To better understand this subglacial biome, SALSA will employ an integrated approach of scientific discovery that samples from three geobiological systems. Through combining results across multiple disciplines, we will learn new information about our planet’s past and gain knowledge on subglacial processes such as carbon cycling and water-ice dynamics.

Preserving the pristine nature of Antarctic subglacial ecosystems necessitates environmental stewardship during their exploration. SALSA will drill into and access subglacial Lake Mercer using a clean and sterile system that minimizes microbial and chemical contamination to the environment and retrieved samples. Click here to read more about our clean access system.

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Hydrology

SALSA will gather data from permanent GPS stations to better understand subglacial water flow’s influence on the larger ice sheet system and improve subglacial lake modeling through comparing our model’s estimates against geochemical data.

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Geology

Through examining microfossils and carbon isotopes within sediment cores, SALSA will gain new information on past paleoclimates, the source and age of relict carbon within subglacial lakes, and the geologic history of West Antarctica.

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Geomicrobiology

The microbial life of subglacial ecosystems exists in total darkness and relies on relict carbon within subglacial sediments to persist. Through sampling these ecosystems, we will gain more knowledge of how these organisms survive.

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2017/18 FIELD SEASON VIDEOS