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Contributors: Exploring Subglacial Lake Ellsworth

Neil Ross is a post-doctoral researcher in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh. He is part of an active project to explore Subglacial Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica. Led by Martin Siegert (University of Edinburgh), this project involves collaboration with glaciologists at the British Antarctic Survey and Northumbria University. Subglacial lakes like Lake Ellsworth are important for several reasons: i) they are likely to contain unique lifeforms that may have been isolated for millions of years; ii) the water they release influences the speed at which ice sheets flow; iii) sediments beneath subglacial lakes will contain records of ice sheet history.

By making measurements using geophysical equipment deployed on the ice surface scientists have been able to gather data on the shape and size of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth, located 3200 m beneath their feet. Data collected by a 4-man team during the first field season (Austral Summer 2007-08) shows that Lake Ellsworth is 12 km long, 2-3 km wide and is, in places, up to 150 m deep. This information confirms that Subglacial Lake Ellsworth is an ideal candidate for future exploration, and will be used to establish the optimum location for direct access and sampling of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth.

A second season of geophysical surveys in West Antarctica will commence in late December 2008. A two man field team (Neil and his field assistant Dave) will be deployed at Lake Ellsworth (S78

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