The stable-isotopic signature of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) has been routinely used in temperate lake systems to investigate the biogeochemical dynamics of carbon. We studied seven perennially ice-covered lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, to ascertain how carbon cycling affects the δ13C of DIC in water columns of these systems. Unlike temperate lakes and, in fact, most polar lake systems, the permanent ice covers of these lakes eliminate physical mixing (turnover) and hence redistribution of DIC in the lakes, as well as minimize CO2 exchange with the atmosphere. These important and unique physical constraints have significant impact on carbon dynamics in the lakes, and important consequences for the δ13C distribution. The geochemistry in these lakes is influenced in varying amounts by landscape position, hydrologic input and their evolutionary history. Five of these lakes (both lobes of Lake Bonney, and Lakes Fryxell, Miers and Vanda) have surface water δ13C ratios of 0–4‰, Lake Hoare has more negative values, while Lake Joyce, the highest-elevation lake, has a much higher value (10.5‰). All of the lakes have upper- to mid-depth δ13C maxima reflecting biological uptake of 12C. Only four of the lakes (Lakes Vanda, Joyce, Hoare and Fryxell) have deep waters with negative values of δ13C, implying rigorous remineralization of 12C at depth. Lake Miers, the only lake that is not closed basin, has the smallest δ13C variation with depth, indicating that hydrologic exchange greatly influences the δ13C signal.