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Lake Untersee, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica by Dale Andersen

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About This Gigapan

Taken by
Dale Andersen Dale Andersen
Explore score
0.15 Gigapixels
Date added
Sep 27, 2011
Date taken
Nov 21, 2008

Lake Untersee, November 2008. Dr. Valery Galchenko of the Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia is seen walking across the lake back to our camp.

Lake Untersee is one of the largest (11.4 km2) and deepest (>160 m) freshwater lakes in East Antarctica. Located at 71•S, the lake has a perennial ice cover that varies in thickness along the main axis of the lake from 2.2 to 3.9 m. With the exception of a small anoxic basin in the southwest of the lake, the water column is generally well mixed, is supersaturated with dissolved oxygen, has a pH of 10.4 and exceedingly high clarity (vertical attenuation coefficient for PAR of 0.033 m-1). While the water column supports little primary production, the floor of the lake has an extensive cover of photosynthetic microbial mat to depths of at least 100 m. For more information, see: Andersen DT, Sumner DY, Hawes I, Webster-Brown J, McKay CP (2011) Discovery of large conical stromatolites in Lake Untersee, Antarctica. Geobiology, 9, 280-293. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-4669.2011.00279.x/full Will open in a new tab or window
We will be returning to Lake Untersee later this year. Our team members for the 2011 Tawani Antarctic Expedition are:

Dale T. Andersen - Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute
Christopher P. McKay - NASA Ames Research Center
Valery Galchenko - Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology, Moscow,
Ian Hawes, University of Canterbury, NZ
Valdimir Akimov - Skryabin Institute of Biochem. & Physiol. of Microorganisms, Pushchino, Russia
Dawn Sumner - University of California, Davis

Our logistics support is being handled by ALCI: www.antarctic-company.com/alci.htm Will open in a new tab or window
And we are working with the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia: www.aari.aq/default_en.html Will open in a new tab or window
Major funding for this project has been provided by the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies and the Trottier Family Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St.Petersburg, Russia, the Von Braun Center, Huntsville, AL; NASA, and the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute, Mt. View, CA.

www.teamseti.org/supportdale Will open in a new tab or window
Dale T. Andersen, Ph.D.
Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe
189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
Mountain View, CA 94043

Web: daleandersen.seti.org Will open in a new tab or window
Twitter: twitter.com/daleandersen Will open in a new tab or window
Youtube: www.youtube.com/daletandersen Will open in a new tab or window
Dale T. Andersen, Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Gigapan Comments (2)

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  1. Dale Andersen

    Dale Andersen (September 28, 2011, 06:36AM )

    The short answer is that the high pH is a result of the weathering of the local rocks (anorthosite) contributing hydroxyl (OH-) ions, along with the presence of the ice-cover that helps keep CO2 from dissolving in the water - which would reduce the pH. The pH of the water is not so high that it burns you - we drink the water and dive in it to explore the lake bottom. Unfortunately the pH of the lake water has been compared to bleach elsewhere online, which is simply not true. The longer answer, which can be found in our paper about the lake (see the link above, you can download the paper for free) is: The high pH has been attributed to weathering of plagioclase supplied by anorthosite in the lake catchment, which produces high calcium, high pH, low dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) waters. Specifically, plagioclase weathering consumes CO2 and, in water in equilibrium with the atmosphere, raises pH to 8.3. Lake Untersee, however, appears to be isolated from the atmosphere by the ice cover, effectively limiting CO2 influx. Thus, plagioclase weathering is dominated by reaction with water, e.g.: 2NaCaAl3Si5O16 9 H2O = 2Na 2 Ca2 6OH- 4SiO2 3Al2Si2O5(OH)4, which in addition to raising pH, provides abundant calcium (and silica) to solution. Chemical modeling shows that this situation is stable only when DIC is maintained at low concentration (30 μmol/l); any influx of CO2 results in precipitation of calcite and a drop in pH (Andersen et al. 2011).

  2. Tom Nelson

    Tom Nelson (September 27, 2011, 09:19PM )

    What accounts for the extreme alkalinity of the water? Would it be strong enough to cause skin burns?

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