Mud and sediment from Subglacial Lake Whillans makes its first supraglacial appearance in January 2013. Researchers retrieved the mud from half a mile below, hauling it up through a borehole in the ice. Reed Scherer (right), a marine micropaleontologist from Northern Illinois University, speeds the samples to an on-site lab. Several rounds of mud and water were collected from the lake for chemical, physical and biological analysis.
Ross Powell (left), a geologist from Northern Illinois University, and Scherer scrape mud off an instrument. Scherer would later find dozens of crushed diatom shells in his samples — possible remnants of microscopic aquatic organisms from when the site of Lake Whillans was a shallow seafloor.
Scherer (center) collects mud from the bottom of the subglacial lake for analysis. The ice that encases the lake likely rolled in sometime between 120,000 and a million years ago. Any life that exists in the lake today may represent hangers-on from its ice-free time.
Fresh out of the borehole, a mud-covered instrument is moved by crane to an on-site lab, where a team of researchers package, label and analyze sediment.
Scherer removes a sediment core from an instrument that bores into the lakebed. Based on satellite measurements, researchers had estimated the lake’s depth at 25 feet. But once a drill penetrated the ice, Scherer and others determined that it is actually 5 feet deep, sitting atop 20 feet of gooey mud.
Marine technician and crane operator Jeremy Lucke displays his tribal enthusiasm for the successful capture of sediment from Lake Whillans.
See more DISCOVER Antarctica dispatches:
U.S. Team Penetrates Subglacial Lake Whillans
Scientists First Glimpse Interior of an Antarctic Subglacial Lake
First Evidence of Life in Antarctic Subglacial Lake
See more stories and multimedia from Lake Whillans in this special report.