The research of Arctic and Antarctic regions has been ongoing for centuries now. But what was expected to be routine research in the Canadian Arctic recently, turned into a possible clue that might provide answers about life further off in the universe. A team led by Anja Ruithauser from the University of Alberta, Canada, recently published a study in the “Science Advances” magazine titled ‘Discovery of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex beneath Devon Ice Cap, Canadian Arctic." The results, a discovery of two Subglacial Lakes below 500 meters of ice, were surprising to the researchers themselves.

This opens space for further studies that could provide answers about the existence of life on planets and other celestial bodies where it was previously thought it might not be possible.

Salty lakes where they shouldn’t be

While the research team was doing a radar survey of the Devon Ice Cap on Devon Island in the are of Canadian Arctic, they discovered two subglacial lakes covering the areas of five to eight kilometers each. This in itself was not such a surprise, as there are at least 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica itself. But what really puzzled the scientists was that they discovered that these two newly discovered lakes contained salty water. Previously, the scientists thought that this ice cap is frozen to the bedrock that lies beneath.

According to the researchers, the water in these lakes has to be very salty so to avoid freezing, at least five times as salty as sea water, so its freezing point is much lower than that of fresh water. For now, it is thought that the salinity of these lakes comes from the salt content of the rocks that surround the lakes. The other discovered salty water beneath a glacier was previously found in Antartica, but that is connected to an ages-old marine water basin.

According to the Canadian study, it is possible that the lakes have been sealed off in their state for approximately 120,000 years.

Salty water and alien life

Currently, the conditions in the Canadian subglacial lakes are thought to be similar to those on Jupiter’s moon Europa, a celestial body for which scientist hold the greatest hope of nurturing extraterrestrial life.

The number of planets and other celestial bodies having similar conditions is still unknown.

But, to make the two situations even comparable, the researchers will have to determine whether there is any form of life in the conditions that exist in the lakes below the Devon Ice Cap. To do that, the researchers will have to collect a sample of the water from those lakes and see “whether microbial life exists”, as Ms. Ruithauser said. That in itself will be a daunting task.

Our search for extraterrestrial life has been nothing less than controversial so far. Will the salty lakes below the Canadian ice cap provide a more solid scientific foundation?