Antarctic Lake Serves Fresh Bacteria, Amid Discovery On What The Continent Looked Like Before Ice

A river flowed through it. Once.

The Antarctic is a very busy place these days. First, a new strain of bacteria has been discovered in a buried Antarctic lake. Russian researchers drilled through 2.5 miles of ice—no mean feat in itself—to take samples from Lake Vostok. Testing at the genetics laboratory of the St Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics found a completely new DNA. "We are calling this life form unclassified and unidentified," said the institute's Sergei Bulat.

Lake Vostok, situated in the middle of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, is of a similar size and depth to Lake Ontario, and is where, on July 21, 1983, the lowest ever temperature on earth was recorded—minus 89 degrees Centigrade.

The East Antarctic is also home to the world's largest glacier, situated in the Lambert Graben, a valley that, 34 million years ago, was less steep and had a river meandering through it. That's the discovery by Stuart Thomson, a University of Arizona geologist, whose findings show just how the southernmost continent in the world has changed over 150 years.

By analyzing sediments drilled from the sea bed just off the glacier, Thomson and his team discovered that, between 250 million and 34 million years ago, the region was flat and drained by slow-moving rivers. Then, as the Earth's climate cooled, the glaciers formed and shaped the valley. The ice sheet has been with us for the past 150 million years—which is what this Winter has felt like.

The University of Arizona's findings will be used to help work out what the effect of climate change will have on the polar ice caps.

Back to the lake. The Russian findings suggest that the Vostok team is fractionally ahead of a similar U.S. project at another Antarctic lake, Whillans, where researchers found traces of microbes at the end of January this year. Last month, a group of European scientists announced a $12 million project to find new chemicals for antibiotics on the deep sea beds of the Pacific, Antarctic, and Arctic.

[Image by Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video]

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