Array of life exists beneath Antarctica’s surface

Vostok-Station

Offering evidence that life seems capable of existing just about anywhere on or even near Earth’s surface, researchers have discovered a “surprising variety” of organisms among samples taken from a lake more two miles beneath a glacier in Antarctica.

The ice covering Lake Vostok has been in place for the past 15 million years, creating tremendous pressure on the subglacial body of water.

Conditions in the region are so harsh and unpredictable that scientists must utilize special gear and undergo survival training just to visit the site, according to the website RedOrbit.

As such, researchers thought the environment would be too severe for life.

Yet, upon studying core samples removed from the deep layer of ice at the point where the glacier met water, samples were found to be teeming with life, according to Scott Rogers, a biological sciences professor at Bowling Green State University.

“We found much more complexity than anyone thought,” he said. “It really shows the tenacity of life, and how organisms can survive in places where a couple dozen years ago we thought nothing could survive.”

Lake Vostok is the largest of some 400 subglacial lakes scattering among Antarctica’s frozen depths. It was first drilled in 1998 by a team of Russian, French and American scientists.

Because the lake is buried so deeply under an Antarctic glacier and is so dark and cold, researchers believed it would be an ideal spot in which to research the uninhabitable conditions of other planets.

Two separate core samples from different areas of the lake have shown similar finds, according to RedOrbit.

“The team used DNA and RNA sequencing of the ice core samples to identify thousands of bacteria, including some that are commonly found in the digestive systems of fish, crustaceans and annelid worms, as well as in fungi,” according to the website. “Other species discovered are associated with habitats of lake and ocean sediments.”

The team found both psychrophiles – organisms associated with extreme cold – and thermophiles – those that prefer heat. The latter suggests that there may be hydrothermal vents deep in the lake, keeping these organisms alive.

(Above: The balmy confines of Vostok Station, from where researchers conduct testing on Lake Vostok, two miles below the surface.)

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8 thoughts on “Array of life exists beneath Antarctica’s surface

  1. Under frozen Antarctica, beside boiling geothermal vents deep in the ocean… Life will always find a way won’t it?

    We humans are a pretty fragile whiny lot aren’t we! (She shivers as she puts another log on the fire and makes yet another hot cuppa, brrrrr) 😉

    • Yes, when I hear folks in my office complain that it’s a) too cold; b) too hot; c) that they don’t want to have to pick up the dead bug in the corner, etc., it makes me wonder how we managed to survive all these many millennia.

      Personally, I don’t know that many of us would last for very long two miles under the ice in Antarctica. But that’s just my opinion. 😉

      • Yup, we are hopeless.
        Years ago we were staying at a campsite in the desert and when I was having my shower one morning (a shower! In the desert!) all I could hear from the next stalls was a family complaining that the hot water wasn’t hot enough. I wondered if they had even noticed the remoteness of their surroundings or the efforts that had been expended to get those showers out there.
        Oh well, we know how long people like that will last when the apocalypse comes… only slightly longer than the plumbing.

        Two miles under the Antarctic though, well I guess we would all stop complaining about the cold after the first few hundred metres anyway. 😉

      • Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if you could have tinkered with the plumbing that time in the desert and suddenly blasted the ingrates with water just a degree or two above freezing? That might have upped their appreciation for the warm water, eh?

        I sometimes do wonder how people like that get along. I mean, whining has to get old after awhile. I suppose that’s why I spend much of my time outdoors by myself – to avoid yahoos who complain about things like too many bugs, too much rain or too much heat. It’s the outdoors; if you don’t like it, go back to your television set.

      • Well…. I admit that after I heard the first bit of whining I turned my hot off so they could get theirs right. Once it was clear they were satisfied with their water temperature I turned mine back up, stealing all the hot. Ahh, the howls of protest made the bit of cold I had put up with well worth it. 😉

        I think some people just can’t be satisfied. No matter how good things are, they have to find that one thing to complain about.

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