Antarctic Lake Vostok, Buried Beneath 2 Miles of Ice, Contains Life

Monday, 08 Jul 2013 05:36 PM

By David Ogul

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Antarctic Lake Vostok, buried under two miles of ice and sealed off for some 15 million years, is apparently teeming with a dazzling array of life, scientists are reporting.

Scientists examining water taken from Lake Vostok have found evidence of more than 3,500 different species, according to Smithsonian.com. Most of the identified species were bacteria, but there also were some fungi.

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Wrote the Smithsonian: “If these findings hold up and if there is life in Lake Vostok that is truly unique on Earth, the finding would be a testament to the hardiness of life. It would be a reassurance that life can persist in some of the harshest conditions and an encouraging finding for those looking for life elsewhere in the universe.”

Social networking sites such as Reddit and Twitter were buzzing with the news.

“Wow. Just goes to show the tenacity of life,” tweeted Brett Weiss, who goes by the Twitter handle @Interlaw1.

“Who’s going fishing with us? Underground Antarctic Lake sealed off for 15m years reveals thousands of forms of life,” tweeted @MIASF61.

The discovery of such an array of life forms was first reported in the scientific journal Plos ONE.

“Over 35 million years ago, Lake Vostok was open to the atmosphere and was surrounded by a forested ecosystem,” wrote University of Ohio team leader Scott Rogers. “At that time, the lake, which might have been a marine bay, probably contained a complex network of organisms.

“Thus, during its history, there were many opportunities for organisms to enter and populate the lake. While the current conditions are different than earlier in its history, the lake seems to have maintained a surprisingly diverse community of organisms. These organisms may have slowly adapted to the changing conditions in Lake Vostok during the past 15-35 million years as the lake converted from a terrestrial system to a subglacial system.”

Vostok is Antarctica’s biggest and deepest subsurface lake. Russian scientists who set up a research station in the area in 1956 soon learned their camp was resting above a giant lake. Drilling to the lake that began two decades ago was completed in 2012. That drilling eventually yielded the samples that provided evidence of life.

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Related stories:

Ship on Fire in Antarctica: 97 in Crew on Chinese Fishing Vessel Rescued

Antarctic Sea Ice Increasing Slowly, Scientists Say

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