(Press Release National Science Foundation, updated Aug 21, 2014, 14:45 EDT to reflect Nature link)
Confirmed: 800 meters beneath Antarctic ice sheet, subglacial lake holds viable microbial ecosystems.
In a finding that has implications for life in other extreme environments, both on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week published a paper confirming that the waters and sediments of a lake that lies 800 meters (2,600 feet) beneath the surface of the West Antarctic ice sheet support "viable microbial ecosystems.”
Given that more than 400 subglacial lakes and numerous rivers and streams are thought to exist beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, such ecosystems may be widespread and may influence the chemical and biological composition of the Southern Ocean, the vast and biologically productive sea that encircles the continent.
According to Brent C. Christner, the paper's lead author and a researcher with the NSF-funded Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project, "Hidden beneath a half-mile of ice in Antarctica is an unexplored part of our biosphere. WISSARD has provided a glimpse of the nature of microbial life that may lurk under more than 5 million square miles of ice sheet."
The WISSARD findings are published in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Nature (update: link added).
#polar #science #WISSARD #Antarctica #subglaciallakes #Whillans
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