Stewardship

Microbe from Lake Vostok accretion ice

"Responsible stewardship during the exploration of subglacial aquatic environments should proceed in a manner that is consistent with the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, that minimizes their possible damage and contamination, and that protects their value for future generations, not only in terms of their scientific value but also in terms of conserving and protecting these pristine environments." - Section 3.1, Code of Conduct for the Exploration and Research of Subglacial Aquatic Environments

Lake Whillans is part of an active subglacial hydrological environment under the Whillans Ice Plain, and has rapid fill-drain cycles.  Two such cycles have been observed in the last six years.  The estimated total lake volume is 0.5 cubic km with 0.15 cubic kilometers exchanged during every cycle, thus the water residence time for the lake is on the order of ten years.  This is in great contrast to the estimated residence times in Lake Ellsworth (750 years) and Lake Vostok (~10,000 years).

Introducing microbial contamination to the subglacial environment during drilling operations could compromise environmental stewardship and the science objectives of the project, consequently we developed a set of tools and procedures to directly address these issues. A hot water drill, using in situ snow and ice, will melt the subglacial access borehole.  WISSARD hot water drilling efforts will include a custom water treatment system designed to remove micron and sub-micron sized particles (biotic and abiotic), irradiate the borehole water with germicidal UV radiation, and pasteurize the water to reduce the viability of persisting microbes. Our clean access protocols also include methods to reduce microbial contamination on the surfaces of cables/hoses and down-borehole equipment using germicidal UV exposure and chemical disinfection.

Guidelines for conducting subglacial research have been described by national and international organizations.

All project operations and activities are reviewed in an Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE).