Drilling Subglacial Lake CECs in Antarctica

Antarctic landscape

UK and Chilean scientists from the Centro de Estudios Científicos (CECs), recently began a collaborative partnership to explore a newly discovered subglacial lake in Antarctica. The lake, now officially named Subglacial Lake CECs, is covered by 2·6km of ice and is a relatively accessible ancient isolated deep-water system.

This programme builds upon the UK's experience in hot-water drilling, whilst harnessing funding and logistical expertise from Chilean and UK sources, to deliver a clean access hole into the lake, giving the opportunity to access lake water and lake-bed samples. These lake-water and lake-bottom samples will enable fundamental questions about the adaptation and persistence of life in extreme environments, and the future contribution of West Antarctica to sea-level, rise to be addressed.

Announcement of Opportunity: Drilling Subglacial Lake CECs in Antarctica

Closing date: 7 May

14 Feb 2020

Proposals are invited for a new Research Programme that, through joint collaboration between the UK and Centro de Estudios Científicos in Chile, provides the opportunity to gain access to water and lake bed sediment samples from Subglacial Lake CECs, Antarctica.

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Over the last few decades more than four hundred lakes have been discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet. Many are hidden beneath several kilometres of ice and have been isolated for tens of millions of years. They represent one of the most inaccessible and intriguing environments on the planet and potentially hold very valuable records of changes in the Earth system and new forms of life.

Several attempts to drill into subglacial lakes have been undertaken. Russian drillers have obtained samples of re-frozen water from Lake Vostok, but their methodology means that their samples are contaminated and their results have been debated. Subglacial Lake Whillans was drilled by a US consortium but this lake is special in that it is very shallow (5 feet) and is linked directly to the open ocean and so it cannot be used to answer the key questions of glacial history and biology.

More recently, Chilean scientists from CECs identified a new subglacial lake named Subglacial Lake CECs. This lake has since been investigated by CECs and British Antarctic Survey teams from the surface using radar and seismic techniques. These investigations have revealed that the lake presents a relatively accessible opportunity for valuable exploration due to the relatively thin ice cover (2·6km), proximity to key logistical support (at Union Glacier) and confirmed lake-bed sediments.

Building upon on a long, successful track-record of hot-water drilling and incorporating lessons learnt from previous drilling campaigns, £3 million of funding is now available (through this research programme) to enable / support the UK community to access and analyse Subglacial Lake CECs water and lake bed samples.


2020 - 2024

Can I apply for a grant?

A call for proposals is open until 23 April 2020. Please see the Announcement of Opportunity for details.


The programme has a budget of £3 million.