Where there is water, there is life… even when the water is 13 degrees below zero Celsius and six times saltier than the ocean.
A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes an ancient community of bacteria in the salty, pitch dark and subfreezing environment beneath nearly 20 meters of ice in Antarctica's Lake Vida.
The inter-disciplinary team that discovered the colony estimates it has been isolated in the ice-sealed lake for more than 3,000 years. Because there is no oxygen or light in Lake Vida, the researchers suggest that the water's high concentrations of hydrogen and nitrogen provide the chemical energy to support the microbial life.
Lead author, polar researcher Alison Murray of the Desert Research Institute says the discovery of a thriving community in such an extreme environment provides insight into how life can be supported in other isolated frozen ecosystems on earth, and possibly on other icy worlds throughout the universe.