Subsurface imaging reveals a confined aquifer beneath an ice-sealed Antarctic lake

H. A. Dugan, P. T. Doran, S. Tulaczyk, J. A. Mikucki, S. A. Arcone, E. Auken, C. Schamper, R. A. Virginia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Liquid water oases are rare under extreme cold desert conditions found in the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys. Here we report geophysical results that indicate that Lake Vida, one of the largest lakes in the region, is nearly frozen and underlain by widespread cryoconcentrated brine. A ground penetrating radar survey profiled 20 m into lake ice and facilitated bathymetric mapping of the upper lake basin. An airborne transient electromagnetic survey revealed a low-resistivity zone 30-100 m beneath the lake surface. Based on previous knowledge of brine chemistry and local geology, we interpret this zone to be a confined aquifer situated in sediments with a porosity of 23-42%. Discovery of this aquifer suggests that subsurface liquid water may be more pervasive in regions of continuous permafrost than previously thought and may represent an extensive habitat for microbial populations. Key Points Geophysical survey finds low resistivities beneath a lake in Antarctic Dry Valleys Liquid brine abundant beneath Antarctic lake Aquifer provides microbial refugium in cold desert environment

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-103
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Antarctica
  • electromagnetic methods
  • frozen ground
  • groundwater hydrology
  • lakes
  • permafrost

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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