Stable water isotopic composition of the Antarctic subglacial Lake Vostok: implications for understanding the lake's hydrology

Isotopes Environ Health Stud. 2016 Aug-Oct;52(4-5):468-76. doi: 10.1080/10256016.2015.1129327. Epub 2016 Feb 10.


We estimated the stable isotopic composition of water from the subglacial Lake Vostok using two different sets of samples: (1) water frozen on the drill bit immediately after the first lake unsealing and (2) water frozen in the borehole after the unsealing and re-drilled one year later. The most reliable values of the water isotopic composition are: -59.0 ± 0.3 ‰ for oxygen-18, -455 ± 1 ‰ for deuterium and 17 ± 1 ‰ for d-excess. This result is also confirmed by the modelling of isotopic transformations in the water which froze in the borehole, and by a laboratory experiment simulating this process. A comparison of the newly obtained water isotopic composition with that of the lake ice (-56.2 ‰ for oxygen-18, -442.4 ‰ for deuterium and 7.2 ‰ for d-excess) leads to the conclusion that the lake ice is very likely formed in isotopic equilibrium with water. In turn, this means that ice is formed by a slow freezing without formation of frazil ice crystals and/or water pockets. This conclusion agrees well with the observed physical and chemical properties of the lake's accreted ice. However, our estimate of the water's isotopic composition is only valid for the upper water layer and may not be representative for the deeper layers of the lake, so further investigations are required.

Keywords: Antarctica; deuterium excess; hydrogen-2; ice core; isotope fractionation; isotope hydrology; lake vostok; oxygen-18; subglacial lake.

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Deuterium / analysis*
  • Ice / analysis
  • Lakes / analysis*
  • Lakes / chemistry*
  • Oxygen Isotopes / analysis


  • Ice
  • Oxygen Isotopes
  • Deuterium