Discovering Lake Vostok: Antarctica's Largest Subglacial Lake
Looking for a trip to the lake this summer? Thinking about Lake Powell, Lake George, or maybe Lake Tahoe? What about Lake Vostok? Heard of it? Maybe. But you're probably not going to plan your next vacation here - this sugblacial lake lies 4000 meters below the ice in East Antarctica!
Confirmed in 1993 by satellite-based laser altimetry, this lake is not only the largest subglacial lake on the continent, but this body of water has been isolated underground with limited nutrients and complete darkness and has become an interesting topic for researchers and scientists worldwide.
So here's the million-dollar question: is there life in Lake Vostok?
First, it is important to note that scientists have only been able to gain access to the lake in the past year when a team of Russian scientists finally reached the surface of the lake after decades of drilling- a tedious and formidable engineering task.
It will take the team about a year to analyze those samples collected earlier this yea, however, hints that there may be previously unidentified species of bacteria in the lake have leaked.
Scientists have also examined ice cores taken above the lake. Samples of these cores have included "accretion ice" which was once lake water that later froze and adhered to the overlying ice sheet.
Past research has found low concentrations of microbes relative to most environments on Earth within the accretion ice. However, there is also potential for a complex microbial ecosystem of bacteria and fungi, possible with distinct ecological zones.
Most recently, researchers from Bowling Green State University in Ohio have identified a diverse array of microbes in the ice. By cultivating and sequencing nucleic acids, researchers have identified more than 3500 unique genetic sequences. And these sequences were similar to those creatures found across the globe.
While it is still to early to tell what exactly lives beneath the Antarctic ice, scientists note that Lake Vostok was in contact with the atmosphere millions of years ago so it is likely that a complex network of organisms populated the lake during that time.
Read more at Science.
Antarctica image via Shutterstock.