The nature of microscopic particulates in meteoric and accreted ice from the Vostok (Antarctica) ice core is assessed in conjunction with existing ice-core data to investigate the mechanism by which particulates are incorporated into refrozen lake water. Melted ice samples from a range of ice-core depths were filtered through 0.2 μm polycarbonate membranes, and secondary electron images were collected at ×500 magnification using a scanning electron microscope. Image analysis software was used to characterize the size and shape of particulates. Similar distributions of major-axis lengths, surface areas and shape factors (aspect ratio and compactness) for particulates in all accreted ice samples suggest that a single process may be responsible for incorporating the vast majority of particulates for all depths. Calculation of Stokes settling velocities for particulates of various sizes implies that 98% of particulates observed could ‘float’ to the ice–water interface with upward water velocities of 0.0003 ms–1 where they could be incorporated by growing ice crystals, or by rising frazil ice crystals. The presence of particulates that are expected to sink in the water column (2%) and the uneven distribution of particulates in the ice core further implies that periodic perturbations to the lake’s circulation, involving increased velocities, may have occurred in the past.