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Sediment of lake under Antarctic ice yields evidence of ancient life

Sept. 10, 2013 at 4:45 PM   |   Comments

LONDON, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Evidence of diverse life dating back nearly a hundred thousand years has been found in a lake buried beneath Antarctic glaciers, British scientists say.

Researchers have long been intrigued by the possibility extreme life forms might exist in the cold, dark lakes hidden miles beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, but direct sampling of these lakes has proved a challenge.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh have been searching around the retreating margins of the ice sheet for subglacial lakes becoming exposed for the first time since they were buried more than 100,000 years ago.

The team focused on Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula, covered by more than 1,300 feet of ice at the end of the last Ice Age but now just covered with around 10 feet of ice, a survey release said Tuesday.

Drilling through the ice, they recovered samples of sediments from the bottom of the lake.

The top few inches of the sample core contained current and recent organisms which inhabit the lake, but once the core reached 10 feet deep the microbes found most likely date back nearly 100,000 years, the scientists said.

"What was surprising was the high biomass and diversity we found," researcher David Pearce said. "This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme."

Scientists say they believe organisms living in subglacial lakes could hold clues for how life might survive on other planets.

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