Life Continues On In An Antarctic Lake Isolated For Thousands Of Years

Antarctica Lake Vida camp snowLake Vida field camp

Photo: Emanuele Kuhn, Desert Research Institute, Reno NV

Researchers have uncovered special bacteria living in Lake Vida in Antarctica that has been isolated for more than 2,800 years.The research, published today, Nov. 26, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed the diverse group of bacteria they found thriving under the extreme conditions of the lake.

Lake Vida was permanently covered by more than 50 feet of ice more than 3,000 years ago. This ice covering, and the half mile of permafrost under the lake, have isolated it from outside sources of energy and nutrients.

“This study provides a window into one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth,” study researcher Alison Murray, said in a press realease from the Desert Research Institute. “This work expands our understanding of the types of life that can survive in these isolated, cryoecosystems and how different strategies may be used to exist in such challenging environments.”

In 2010 the researchers drilled ice cores into the lake to collect samples of the water within. In the lake, temperatures only reach about nine degrees Fahrenheit and it’s salty, dark, and slightly acidic. They also found high levels of ammonia, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen.

The researchers think that chemical reactions between chemicals in the water and rocks in the lake create hydrogen, which could provide the energy to support life. This research can provide information on how life could exist in strange environments in places other than Earth — specifically on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

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