Quirks & Quarks

Life Under Antarctic Ice

Water samples from lakes sealed under Antarctic ice are full of life....

Water samples from lakes sealed under Antarctic ice are full of life.

Twenty years ago, scientists confirmed that, trapped under the massive Antarctic ice cap, there were lakes of liquid water, maintained by geothermal heat from below.  Since then, there have been many attempts to drill into these lakes and sample their water to see if life exists in them.  Finally, last year, an American team drilling into Lake Whillans in West Antarctica successfully retrieved an uncontaminated sample of sub-glacial lake water, and they were delighted with what they found.  According to Dr. John Priscu, an Ecologist from Montana State University and Chief Scientist on the American team, the water contained a density and diversity of life comparable to the deep oceans.  These microbes formed part of an ecosystem that gleaned energy and nutrients from chemicals in sediments and rocks under the ice cap.

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