Microbial Life Discovered Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet
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) have confirmed that the waters and sediments of a lake that lies 2,600 feet beneath the surface of the West Antarctic ice sheet support viable microbial ecosystems. The NSF-funded Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team had made scientific and engineering history in January of 2013 when they used clean hot-water drilling technology to access subglacial Lake Whillans. This permitted the retrieval of pristine water and sediment samples that had been isolated from direct contact with the atmosphere for many thousands of years. Engineers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln designed and fabricated the specialized hot-water drill that was fitted with a filtration and germicidal UV system to prevent contamination of the subglacial environment and to recover clean samples for microbial analyses. Analysis of the samples taken from subglacial Lake Whillans show that the water contains a diverse microbial community, many members of which can mine rocks for energy and use carbon dioxide as their source of carbon.