Many more such lakes exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa's shell, the researchers predict in an online article in the journal Nature.
Further increasing the potential for life, many of these lakes are covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already thought to exist below the thick ice shell.
"The potential for exchange of material between the surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology," says Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and a co-author of the study.
"Europa's subsurface harbors much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology."
"One opinion in the scientific community has been, 'If the ice shell is thick, that's bad for biology - that it might mean the surface isn't communicating with the underlying ocean," adds Britney Schmidt, the paper's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. more