Confirmed: Life in buried Antarctic lake

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

American scientists have confirmed that water samples from the buried Antarctic Lake Whillans, first obtained in January 2013, contained almost 4,000 different species of life.

Samples from the lake show that life has survived there without energy from the Sun for the past 120,000 years, and possibly for as long as 1 million years. And they offer the first look at what may be the largest unexplored ecosystem on Earth — making up 9% of the world’s land area. “There’s a thriving ecosystem down there,” says David Pearce, a microbiologist at Northumbria University, UK, who was part of a team that tried, unsuccessfully, to drill into a different subglacial body, Lake Ellsworth, in 2013.



  • DK Williams

    Another example of the remarkable tenacity of life.

  • Pzatchok

    I bet it looks nothing like the back of a refrigerator on a collage campus.

  • Cotour

    Unrelated but related:

    I post this picture from Mars, which is interesting to me because of two other observations and not the observation sighted in the article. To me the object actually looks like an insect or a water run off tunnel casting of some sort and if you notice the material that it is found in is very much unlike the material in the picture above it. The material surrounding the unusual sample appears to have been disturbed and fluffed up a bit. Possibly through freezing and thawing? But why the dramatic difference between the two materials in that particular picture? What is different about the one area and not the other?

    Why are there two types of materials in the picture is the more interesting question in addition to the unusual shaped sample. And you have to admit that there are some very unusual shapes being photographed as the rover tours around the red planet.

    Any suggestions?

  • I have no idea what this is, but I will unequivocally state that it is not an animal bone. In my many years of caving I have seen many rocks shaped similar to this, carved by erosion into unusual shapes. Curiosity data has confirmed that water had been flowing at one time on the surface in Gale Crater, so getting a rock, or many rocks, smoothed and shaped strangely should surprise no one, especially since they can sit there and be shaped for a very long time without being disturbed by anything.

    Another way to look at this is how little evidence of life we see on Mars, compared to the Earth. On Earth there is literally no spot that doesn’t have some evidence of life. They even found it in a Antarctic lake that has been buried for millions of years. On Mars, however, the land is really barren. Once in a while we see something that reminds of life, but it is the rare exception, not the rule. In almost all images, Mars is lifeless.

  • Edward

    “Why are there two types of materials in the picture is the more interesting question ”

    I am not a geologist, but that is precisely the kind of question that they like to ask. Without additional pictures showing the landscape around this photo, it is difficult to answer such a question.

    A few days ago, commenter Competential linked to a lecture that explained the advantages to geologists of being able to see the whole region in order to answer just such questions, and a demonstration of a 3D tool to do just that. It is the second part of the lecture:

    The lecture:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *