The Hidden World Beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet | John Priscu

TED Talks
2 min readMay 22, 2023
  • John Priscu has been studying Antarctica for 30 years and wants to challenge the perception of it being a dead continent.
  • Antarctica is twice the size of Australia and covered with ice, with 99% of its surface covered in ice that is almost two miles thick.
  • Priscu’s team discovered over 200 lakes and river systems beneath the Antarctic ice sheet using satellite images and other data.
  • They conducted an expedition to Lake Whillans, drilling down half a mile and finding evidence of life beneath the ice.
  • Priscu believes that studying Antarctica’s hidden ecosystems can help us understand climate change and is now involved in planning a mission to explore the oceans under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Actionable Insights

  1. Challenge preconceived notions: Question widely held beliefs and assumptions, like the idea that Antarctica is a lifeless continent, and seek evidence to support or refute them.
  2. Utilize technology: Take advantage of satellite imagery and other advanced tools to gather data and gain insights about remote and inaccessible regions.
  3. Collaborate internationally: Foster partnerships with experts from different disciplines and countries to pool resources, knowledge, and expertise in order to tackle complex scientific challenges.
  4. Implement rigorous protocols: Follow strict environmental and sample handling protocols to ensure the integrity of research findings and minimize contamination.
  5. Plan for the future: Look beyond current discoveries and consider potential applications in other unexplored environments, such as the oceans beneath the ice on moons in our outer solar system.

Key Takeaways

  1. Antarctica is not a lifeless continent; it harbors hidden ecosystems and vast freshwater reserves beneath its thick ice sheet.
  2. Satellite imagery and advanced technologies have revealed the existence of over 200 lakes and extensive river systems under the Antarctic ice.
  3. An expedition to Lake Whillans provided the first glimpse of life under the ice, challenging the perception of Antarctica as a barren land.
  4. Exploring hidden ecosystems can enhance our understanding of climate change and the role of Antarctic environments in the global ecosystem.
  5. Lessons learned from studying Antarctica can be applied to other unexplored regions, such as the oceans under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Understanding the importance of questioning and challenging existing scientific assumptions to uncover new knowledge.
  2. Gaining insights into the technological advancements that enable exploration and research in extreme environments.
  3. Appreciating the significance of interdisciplinary collaboration and international partnerships in advancing scientific understanding.
  4. Recognizing the impact of rigorous protocols in ensuring the validity and reliability of research findings.
  5. Exploring the potential for applying lessons learned from studying Antarctica to further discoveries in other unexplored environments.


The work of John Priscu and his team has transformed our perception of Antarctica, revealing a hidden world teeming with life beneath the ice. By challenging prevailing notions, leveraging technology, collaborating internationally, implementing strict protocols, and planning for the future, they have demonstrated the importance of scientific exploration in unlocking the mysteries of our planet and beyond. These lessons can inspire future research and help us broaden our understanding of ecosystems, climate change, and the potential for life in other unexplored environments.