Tags: subglacial | lake | life | survived | without | sun

Subglacial Lake Life Survived 120K Years Without Sun's Light

By    |   Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 09:47 AM

A subglacial lake in Antarctica contained life, including nearly 4,000 species of bacteria and single-celled microorganisms, which has survived without the energy of the sun for at least 120,000 years, researchers reported in the August issue of Nature.

The samples were taken by scientists in January 2013 who were working at Lake Whillans, hidden some 800 meters under Antarctica's icy surface, according to Nature. Researchers told the magazine that scientists spent six years just developing procedures to make sure they did not contaminate the lake with invasive organisms when they began researching it.

"There's a thriving ecosystem down there," David Pearce, a microbiologist at Northumbria University in UK, told Nature, "It's the first time that we've got a real insight into what organisms might live beneath the Antarctic continent."

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Pearce was part of a team that tried to drill a different subglacial body, Lake Ellsworth, in 2013.

The study's lead author, Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, told NBC News that there are almost 400 lakes under Antarctica's ice with some even connected to rivers and streams. He said Lake Whillans gave scientists plenty to talk about.

"If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn't make this up," Christner said.

The hidden Lake Whillans is about six feet deep and 20 square miles wide, according to National Geographic. The lake has remained liquid because of the heat from the bedrock and friction from the glaciers moving over the bedrock.

National Geographic noted that the microbes discovered in Lake Whillans are chemoautotrophs, meaning that they live off minerals dissolved in the water, including nitrites, iron and sulfur compounds. The microbes give rise to how such life could thrive on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Nature wrote that the discovery also has more earthly implications.

"The results emerging from Lake Whillans could also shed light on how Antarctica influences the nearby ocean and even the entire world," noted Nature. "If microbes beneath the ice sheet play an important part in altering the minerals in the sediments, as the latest data suggest, those organisms might supply iron to the subglacial waters that eventually reach the ocean."

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A subglacial lake in Antarctica contained life, including nearly 4,000 species of bacteria and single-celled microorganisms, which has survived without the energy of the sun for at least 120,000 years, researchers reported in the August issue of Nature.
subglacial, lake, life, survived, without, sun
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2014-47-21
Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 09:47 AM
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