Researchers have found hidden interconnected lakes underneath Antarctica’s dry valleys, which could sustain life. The researchers added that the discovery sheds light on ancient climate change.
The study, which was conducted by the researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and published in the Nature Communications journal, shows compelling evidence about the underground lakes and brine-saturated sediments that exist underneath Antarctica’s dry valleys, which may support subsurface microbial ecosystems.
Jill Mikucki, microbiology assistant professor from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the lead author of the study, said, “It may change the way people think about the coastal margins of Antarctica. We know there is significant saturated sediment below the surface that is likely seeping into the ocean and affecting the productivity of things that feed ocean food webs. It lends to the understanding of the flow of nutrients and how that might affect ecosystem health.”
The researchers detected extensive salty groundwater networks in Antarctica using a novel airborne electromagnetic mapping sensor system called SkyTEM. The researcher mounted sensor on their helicopters to scope out the area, testing the conductivity of the ground below. They knew that water increases its resistivity as it freezes, meaning that it’s less conductive of electrical currents. But salty water, which can stay liquid at lower temperatures, has very low resistivity.
The researchers found that there was something sourcing Blood Falls, which is a red-ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. They found brine, which was more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground.
The researchers also believe that this extensive brine isn’t unique to the valley, and that subsurface ecosystems of extreme microbes might be connected to visible lakes, and perhaps even interact with the ocean.
They also added that the brine may provide insight on how microbes survive such extreme conditions. They also may provide the basis for future exploration of a subsurface habitat on Mars.