St. Olaf News
St. Olaf scientists among authors of Nature cover story
August 20, 2014
Two St. Olaf College scientists are among the authors of a paper published in the new issue of Nature that confirms that a lake 800 meters below the ice in Antarctica supports “viable microbial ecosystems.”
It’s a finding that “has implications for life in other extreme environments both on Earth and planets elsewhere in the solar system,” notes Nature, a highly regarded international journal that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields.
St. Olaf Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel and postdoctoral scientist Knut Christianson ’05, who taught at the college from 2010 to 2012, are members of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team that wrote the paper.
The team, which includes 13 principal investigators from eight academic institutions and additional collaborators from around the world, spent several years studying the subglacial lake in Western Antarctica.
Last year, in what the National Science Foundation called “a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering,” the team successfully drilled through nearly half a mile of ice to reach the subglacial lake. Through that process, they retrieved water and sediment samples that had been isolated for thousands of years. Jacobel and Christianson, who gathered remotely sensed geophysical data on the dimensions and hydrology of the lake, played a crucial role in helping the team determine where to drill.
“We were pleased to see the project achieve exciting results after many years in the planning stages and two years carrying out the geophysical studies that led to the successful drilling,” Jacobel says.
The two St. Olaf researchers have continued to play an active role in distilling the data they collected in Antarctica, with Christianson heavily involved in the writing of the Nature paper and Jacobel working with a team of St. Olaf students this summer to analyze and compile all of the geophysical data collected.
The summer project, supported by the National Science Foundation, is part of ongoing research at the college’s Center for Geophysical Studies of Ice and Climate (CEGSIC), which Jacobel directs.