Life can survive deep down below the ice. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Eli Duke
Researchers in Antarctica have revealed the discovery of a whole ecosystem living beneath the pack ice.
It seems a long time since scientists first started to drill down through the ice to sample the waters of one of Antarctica's many subglacial lakes, bodies of water that have remained completely isolated from the outside world as far as half a mile under the surface where by all rights nothing should be able to survive.
This week however the research team finally confirmed that this cold, dark environment is indeed home to some remarkable forms of life and may offer hope for finding life on other worlds as well.
"It's the first definitive evidence that there's not only life, but active ecosystems underneath the Antarctic ice sheet, something that we have been guessing about for decades," said lead researcher Brent Christner.
The organisms, which were found in Lake Whillans below the Ross Ice Shelf, live in an environment that is so harsh that they have developed the ability to attach themselves to mineral particles and to absorb ammonium and nitrogen from them in order to stay alive.
The discovery is particularly important for astrobiologists as it provides yet more evidence that extreme forms of life can survive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. The depths of the subglacial lakes are especially similar to the potential conditions on Jupiter's moon Europa.
"I think that this does nothing but strengthen the case for life on other icy bodies in the solar system and beyond," said Christner. "The first time we went to Antarctica and the first place we selected to drill a hole we found life. So it’s not much of a stretch that in similar conditions, like on the icy moon of Jupiter, Europa, life could exist there."
Source: Telegraph | Comments (5)