Two lakes discovered in the heart of the Canadian Arctic are found under a layer of ice more than half a kilometer thick, on the island of Devon. These are the first lakes of this kind discovered in Canada.
Anja Rutishauser, a doctoral student at the University of Alberta, was shocked when she studied radar-captured information over the Devon Ice Cap. “The radar data indicated that there were subglacial liquids there,” she says. “It was very intriguing at first, because we know that the temperature in the center of the glacier, where these anomalies were detected, is well below the freezing point.”
It was then that she speculated that both lakes were made of salt water. “This water must have a concentration of salt 4 to 5 times higher than the ocean water, which would bring down the freezing point so that the water can remain liquid, even at this low temperature,”she explains.
“We do not know when or how these lakes formed, but if they have always been under the ice, it means that they have been covered for at least 120,000 years. Maybe more, but it’s the minimum,” says the researcher.
According to Anja Rutishauser, “as they are also salty, these lakes could be good Earth analogues of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons”, on which we find “pockets of salt water” like those that her team has discoveries in the Arctic.
By exploring the subglacial lakes one could better understand the possibilities and limitations existing in such extreme conditions.
She hopes one day to be able to take a sample of these lakes, to study their ecosystem and determine if life has developed there, “away from the rest of the atmosphere, without sun, in extreme cold and an environment with a lot of salt, where the water is under a lot of pressure because of the amount of ice that covers it “.