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Life Confirmed in Buried Antarctic Lake
Lake Whillans lies beneath an ice stream that moves about a meter per day, as opposed to something like a meter per year for the surrounding icecap. Little is known about the possible relation between ice streams on the surface and subglacial river systems, which have only been discovered – and charted through radar – over the past couple of decades.
Credit: WISSARD Project

Blobs and smears of microbial life growing in clear plastic disks are confirmation of a community living in a lake buried beneath the Antarctic ice, scientists studying the lake have said.

Water retrieved from subglacial Lake Whillans contains about 1,000 bacteria per milliliter (about a fifth of a teaspoon) of lake water, biologist John Priscu of Montana State University told Nature News. Petri dishes swiped with samples of the lake water are already growing colonies of microbes at a good rate, Nature News reported.

Lake Whillans is 2,625 feet (800 meters) below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. After breaking through the ice on Jan. 28, researchers are returning to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. These samples will be tested for signs of microbial life, which could shed light on the types of extreme life that is able to thrive in such harsh environments.

Reach Becky Oskin at boskin@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @beckyoskin. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.