A project co-led by Texas A&M University Professor Mahlon C. Kennicutt II will be highlighted on February 11 as part of a month-long media event to focus attention on the accomplishments of major International Polar Year ( IPY ) research projects as the formal observation of IPY draws to a close in March.

The Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments: Unified International Team for Exploration and Discovery ( SALE-UNITED ) will be the topic of an international media release and featured on the IPY website at http://www.ipy.org. Kennicutt, who is a professor in the Department of Oceanography in the College of Geosciences, is a team leader for the SALE-UNITED project and president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research ( SCAR ), both of which have made significant advances on several fronts in promoting, facilitating and championing international cooperation to better understand subglacial aquatic environments in Antarctica.

On February 25th, 2009, the International Polar Year Joint Committee plans to issue a report on the state of polar research that reviews the collective impact of international and interdisciplinary research achieved through IPY 2007-8. In conjunction with the release of the official report, organizers of the International Polar Year – the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization – will host a celebration in Geneva, Switzerland.

In addition to involvement through research, Texas A&M University also participated in the International Polar Year by co-sponsoring Aggie Polar-Palooza on November 5, 2008, which brought world renowned polar explorers to campus to engage and inform the public about cutting-edge research and changes in the northern and southern polar regions. Nearly 1,000 middle and high school students and several hundred local residents and A&M students learned how rapid changes in the Arctic and Antarctic are affecting the health and function of the earth system. “Polar Palooza – Stories from a Changing Planet” was a national educational outreach project funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

The International Polar Year is a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic. IPY 2007-8 is actually the fourth time a polar year has been celebrated. The first was held in 1882-83, with others following in 1932-33, and 1957-58. In order to have full and equal coverage of both the Arctic and Antarctic, IPY 2007-08 covered two full annual cycles from March 2007 to March 2009. The program involved over 50,000 researchers from more than 60 nations working on over 200 projects examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics.

The SALE-UNITED IPY project which Kennicutt co-leads, brings together an international federation of scientists seeking to accomplish three goals: understand the formation and evolution of subglacial lakes and environments; determine the origins, evolution and maintenance of life in subglacial lake environments; and understand the limnology and paleoclimate history recorded in subglacial lake sediments.

“After years of planning, strategizing, and international discussions and debate, what once seemed to be only lofty scientific ambitions, are now closer than ever to becoming a reality,” said Kennicutt. “Since subglacial lakes captured the imagination of scientists and the public more than a decade ago, researchers have dreamed of entering and sampling these alien environments to unlock secrets that might guide us in the search for life elsewhere in our solar system.”

Three programs to sample subglacial systems are underway: one is led by Russia, one by the United Kingdom ( UK ), and the third by the United States ( US ). Kennicutt is part of the UK led program which will attempt to directly access, measure and sample subglacial Lake Ellsworth. This team includes a consortium of ten universities and research institutes from the UK and three from the US – Montana State University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Texas A&M University. The proposed project will access Lake Ellsworth using hot water drilling designed to penetrate the lake’s ice roof without contaminating the water body below. Instrument development and testing and a comprehensive environmental evaluation will be completed within the next three years. The lake access experiment is scheduled to be conducted in 2012-2013.

The most well-known program of SALE-UNITED is the Russian Antarctic Expedition that continues to make progress in drilling toward subglacial Lake Vostok, the largest known subglacial lake on earth. If all goes well, the first ever direct sampling of a subglacial lake beneath the vast East Antarctic ice sheet is expected to occur sometime in 2009-2010.

The US-led program is a proposed study of subglacial environments beneath two ice streams. If funded, the ice streams subglacial environment will be sampled some time in 2010-2011.

These programs will be the first nodes in what is environed as a continent-wide, network of study sites that international teams will use to conduct a wide array of research projects over the next decade or more exploring the influence and importance of subglacial environments in the evolution of Antarctica as a continent covered by massive ice sheets and of the biota that live and thrive in these harsh and unique ecological niches.

For more information on IPY visit the website at www.ipy.org. Texas A&M University hosts the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s website for Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments ( SCAR-SALE ) at http://scarsale.tamu.edu/.