Scientists have known about liquid water beneath the Antarctic ice for over forty years. Yesterday, Nature Journal released a report from the compilation of research that concludes there is a sub glacial aqueous environment in the Antarctic. The tests conclude that there is a microbial ecosystem.
The discovery after years of data collection recognizes that this microbial ecosystem may influence biogeochemical transformations around the globe. A look at keys to climate change may also be found from this discovery.
The drill site for this discovery is on the south western part of Antarctica at Lake Whillans. This lake is connected by rivers and streams. This find excites scientists to hope that this is the beginning of other hidden waterways that may carry life and new information about the Antarctic. Some other drill sites have not yield any glacial garden finds but there are 400 known lakes in Antarctica.
After years of planning and dreams of unknown secrets, the drilling broke through to Lake Whillans in January 2013. It cost more than $10 million which was provided by the National Science Foundation to support an Antarctic team, called WISSARD. The drill was a custom hot-water drill with its own decontamination system to maintain the integrity of the samples.
Anticipation was high and gave way to success within a day of pulling out the tea-colored water; tests done in a temporary lab confirmed the lake sparked with life. The next step was to transport 8 gallons of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. This was divided amongst scientists at Montana State University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions receiving parts of the precious samples. Cultures were grown and the finding with DNA tests showed that there existed 3,931 species of single-celled life in Lake Whillans.
The interesting revelation was that the organisms lived in the lake without sunlight. The organisms rely on minerals in the water for their “charge" of carbon dioxide. This allows the change into organic compounds. One abundant organic compound named archaea lives in the water and oxidizes ammonium. When the archaea die, the cycle allows it to become food for another group that oxidizes sulfur for energy.
The chain of life in this sub glacial garden continues as a another group oxidizes iron and another bacteria chews up methane.
The sub glacial color of the water comes from a thin film of pulverized rock. What the find of living bacteria is that the Antarctic the sea flooded Lake Whillans before it became an iced over glacial sheet.
The scientists are excited to use the findings on how could exist on Mars or Jupiter’s cold moon Europa. Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, states, "I think this does strengthen the case for finding life on icy bodies."