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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Postcards from Cold, Dark Places: Antarctic Subglacial Exploration

Jill Mikucki, Assistant ProfessorCollege of Arts and Sciences - Microbiology

Antarctica, the coldest, driest continent on our planet, has long been considered a “big dead place.” We now know that life exists within and below the massive ice sheets and glaciers that cover this isolated continent. Understanding the role of these life forms in global processes and what they might tell us about the potential for life elsewhere in the universe requires the collection of uncontaminated samples. Access to these elusive environments for exploration is a massive logistical challenge since we must drill through hundreds of feet of ice and do so in a manner that prevents contamination of these pristine ecosystems. Sub-glacial exploration is now underway with simultaneous US, UK, and Russian Antarctic sub-glacial access drilling projects. The US program plans to drill into a sub-glacial lake under the Whillans Ice Stream in East Antarctic this austral summer. Mikucki will highlight the challenges and rewards of her participation in the project.​

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