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A large deep freshwater lake beneath the ice of central East Antarctica

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Abstract

IN 1974–75, an airborne radio-echo survey of ice depths over central East Antarctica led to the discovery of a sub-ice lake of unknown depth and composition, with an area of about 10,000km2 and lying beneath 4km of ice1. In 1993, altimetric data from satellite measurements2 provided independent evidence of the lake's areal extent, thus confirming it to be the largest known sub-ice lake by an order of magnitude. Here we analyse new altimetric and radio-echo data, along with existing seismic data3, to show that the lake is deep (mean depth of 125 m or more) and fresh, and that it has an area that exceeds previous estimates by about 50%—dimensions comparable with those of Lake Ontario. We estimate that the residence time of the water in the lake is of the order of tens of thousands of years, and that the mean age of water in the lake, since deposition as surface ice, is about one million years. Regional ice-dynamics can be explained in terms of steady-state ice flow along and over the lake.

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