Antarctica is home to more than 70 lakes that lie at the base of the continental ice sheet. Lake Vostok, discovered beneath Russia's Vostok Station in 1996, is the largest of these subglacial lakes. It was once believed that the lake had been sealed off for 500,000 to one million years but a recent survey suggests that, every so often, there are large flows of water from one lake to another.

There is some evidence, in the form of ice cores drilled to about 400 m (1,300 ft) above the water line, that Lake Vostok's waters may contain microbial life. The frozen surface of the lake shares similarities with Jupiter's moon, Europa. If life was discovered in Lake Vostok, it would strengthen the argument for the possibility of life on Europa. On 7 February 2008, a NASA team embarked on a mission to Lake Untersee, searching for extremophiles in its highly alkaline waters. If found, these resilient creatures could further bolster the argument for extraterrestrial life in extremely cold, methane-rich environments.