A few weeks ago, researchers drilled a deep borehole through the Antarctic ice sheet and reached Lake Mercer, a subglacial body of water. There, they discovered not only a surprising amount of bacteria, but also the remains of several tiny animals. You can now experience part of that discovery thanks to a point-of-view video going through the borehole and into the lake.
The carcasses of these critters were so unexpected that the team worried they had somehow contaminated their sample. After carefully cleaning their instruments, they collected more samples. Once again, they found the remains of tiny crustaceans and tardigrades. Ancient algae and what is believed to be fungi were also discovered.
While the findings are exciting, there is a lot we still don’t know. However, the exploration team is on it. They have big plans for the samples collected, including trying to establish the age of the remains using radiocarbon dating and sequencing as much of their DNA as possible. This could provide crucial information about where these small organisms came from. Did they live in seawater, freshwater, or on land? There is also hope that by studying their chemical composition, the team can work out if they managed to survive deep beneath the ice or were dead by the time they got into the lake.
It is deemed highly unlikely that these organisms survived in the lake’s extreme conditions, but that’s not necessarily the case with the bacteria. Researchers have found 10,000 bacterial cells per millimeter of water in the samples. The number is tiny (1 percent) compared to ocean water, but it is extremely significant considering the life-opposing conditions these microbes have to endure.
This is the second subglacial lake explored in Antarctica. It is believed to be one of many, possibly hundreds, present underneath the thick ice sheet. It’s possible the findings here are more the rule than the exception. On January 5, the polar scientists sealed the 1,000-meter-deep (3,280-foot) borehole to Lake Mercer, separating once again the sub-glacial lake from the rest of the world.
[H/T: Nature News]
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