2017 Expedition to Lake Untersee, Antarctica

Posted on Friday, November 17, 2017

Lake Untersee

Lake Untersee, Antarctica

Dr. Denis Lacelle, Benoit Faucher and Nicole Marsh (University of Ottawa) are conducting cutting edge research at Lake Untersee, one of the largest perennially ice-covered lakes in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica.

The Lake Untersee research program (led by Dr. Dale Andersen, Carl Sagan Center, SETI Institute, USA) is an international collaboration with the Russian Antarctic Expedition (RAE) and includes team members from the United States, Canada, Russia and Australia. Project support has been provided by the Tawani Foundation, the Trottier Family Foundation and POLAR Knowledge Canada. The overall objective of the program is to study: 1) the hydro-geochemical and limnological conditions of Lake Untersee; 2) the dynamics of the microbial ecosystem in the lake; and 3) the distribution, abundance and state of preservation of molecular biomarkers in the relic organic mats of Aurkjosen Valley paleo-lake basin, which represents an analogue to lakes on early Mars (e.g. Gale Crater).

Research objectives.

Benoit Faucher (PhD candidate, uOttawa).

Title. Antarctica’s Lake Untersee Oasis: paleo-environment insights into ice sheet, hydrology, permafrost dynamics and implications for preservation of biomarkers.

Objectives. The two main objectives of my PhD research project are to: 1) reconstruct the landscape evolution of the Lake Untersee Oasis over the last 10,000 years; and 2) assess the level of preservation and stability of biomarkers in organic mats from a cold and dry Mars-like environment. These objectives will be accomplished by: 1) determining the timing of formation of the ice-covered proglacial lakes in Untersee and Obersee valleys; 2) characterizing lake water geochemistry and its evolution over time; 3) determining the timing and cause of the disappearance of the lake in Aurkjosen Valley and its evolution to a desert-like environment; 4) characterizing the bulk organic carbon, organic carbon compounds, compound specific carbon isotopes of the active and relict organic mats. 


Nicole Marsh (MSc candidate, uOttawa)

Title. Evaluation of isotope chemistry and carbon-cycling in Lake Untersee, Antarctica

ObjectivesLake Untersee appears to be a remarkable closed system with only a possible source of carbon addition from incoming glacier ice, and losses through sedimentation. Its high pH and over-pressuring of gases may be generated through either glacier imports and weathering or in-lake biogeochemistry. Geochemical and radiocarbon analyses of both the glacier imports and carbon reservoirs may provide insights on the cycling of nutrients and solutes in the lake; this should provide valuable insights on how life has managed to thrive in this extreme system.

The objective of the research is to investigate geochemical evolution, trace carbon cycling and weathering in Lake Untersee, through major and trace element geochemistry and compound-specific carbon isotopic analysis. Methane, DIC and DOC in lake water, lake ice, glacier ice and sediment pore water will be dated through radiocarbon analysis. Noble gas (CO2-O2-N2) concentrations and isotopic ratios in the lake’s water will be assessed by passive diffusion. Mineralogical work on bedrock and sediments will also be conducted to provide insights into potential weathering contributions from the anorthosite bedrock and flux into the water column from lake sediment.


Biography of Denis Lacelle

Dr. Lacelle is already internationally recognized as a leading expert in the study of Arctic and Antarctica permafrost. Dr. Lacelle’s research bridges geomorphology, the emerging discipline of geocryology, and the increasingly sophisticated field of Quaternary science. He employs a multidisciplinary perspective to study terrestrial polar environments, incorporating field observations and measurements with geochemical, geomorphological, and geocryological methods. His exceptional contributions to research and the training of students was recognized by the province of Ontario and the University of Ottawa with three prestigious awards: 2015 Ontario Early Researcher Award; 2013 University of Ottawa Young Researcher of the Year Award in Science and Technology; and 2013 Faculty of Arts Young Researcher of the Year.


Biography of Benoit Faucher

Benoit is a geography PhD student specializing in biogeochemical processes occurring in permafrost soils and perennially ice-covered lakes found in cold and dry Mars-like environments. He is a recipient of the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS).

Biography of Nicole Marsh

Nicole is a Master’s candidate with the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, examining the carbon cycle and isotope geochemistry of Lake Untersee, Antarctica. She received a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Geological Sciences from the University of British Columbia in 2014, and worked as an environmental scientist in Vancouver, British Columbia before starting graduate studies at the University of Ottawa this September. 


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