Marine Life Talk – 2 May 2013

The onion with water

Engineering for measurement and sampling of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth, Antarctica: Trials and tribulations

by Dr Matt Mowlem –

Antarctic subglacial lakes are thought to be extreme habitats for microbial life and may contain important records of ice sheet history and climate change within their lake floor sediments. To find whether or not this is true, and to answer the science questions that would follow, direct measurement and sampling of these environments are required. Ever since the water depth of Vostok Subglacial Lake was shown to be >500 m, attention has been given to how these unique, ancient, and pristine environments may be entered sampled and measured without contamination and adverse disturbance.

This presentation describes the project background, science and the systems engineered to achieve the clean access, measurement and sampling of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth which is situated in West Antarctica.

In the Austral summer of 12/13 an attempt at lake access was made, but was ultimately unsuccessful. The presentation therefore includes an analysis of why we failed to access the lake, and what we will do differently should a second attempt be made.

Dr Matt Mowlem MEng (University of Southampton 1996), PhD (Optoelectronics Research Centre / Engineering Materials, University of Southampton 2002) is a Principal Research Fellow and the Head of Ocean Technology and Engineering Department at the NOC. His primary research focuses on the development of in situ (i.e., submersible) miniature sensors and analytical systems for the measurement of ocean chemistry and biology. This work is undertaken by the sensors development group within OTEG for which he is the principal investigator.

Matt is also the principal investigator for the project that engineered a probe and associated control systems for the measurement and sampling of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth. The team also produced the systems to enable a clean experiment consisting of equipment both in the UK where the engineering was prepared, and on site where it was to be placed in the main borehole without contact with human hand or the wider environment.

Recordings of previous Marine Life Talks can be found on:

The next Marine Life Talk at the National Oceanography Centre: 6 June 2013

Free admission – these talks are open to the public

The Marine Life Talks are held on the first Thursday of the month at 7.30pm, please arrive at 7.15pm.

Arrangements for wheelchairs must be made in advance. Unless it is possible to descend via the stairs in an emergency, access to upper floors cannot be permitted as lifts are automatically immobilised when the fire alarm is activated.

The National Oceanography Centre is reached via Dock Gate 4 (between Southampton’s Town Quay and Ocean Village).

Event dates: 
Thursday 2 May 2013 - 19:15 to 20:30