Although Antarctica may look like a frozen wasteland, it was proved that its dry surface hides underneath interconnected lakes. This means that life was sustained and it could explain ancient climate changes. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
The liquid discovered about 1.000 feet underneath the Antarctic Taylor Valley is twice as salty as seawater. The aquifer extends from McMurdo Sound (Ross Sea) more than 11 miles into the eastern region of Taylor Valley. In addition scientists discovered a second system which connects Taylor Glacier with Lake Bonney. It seems that briny water is very widespread underneath Taylor Valley and it indicates that although the valley’s lakes seem scattered they are not isolated like scientists previously thought.
The scientists used SkyTEM, a mapping sensor system. Using this airborne electromagnetic system the scientists obtained clear proof that the underground lakes and the sediments saturated with brine can sustain subsurface microbial ecosystems.
Microbiology assistant professor, Jill Mikucki of the University of Tennessee, said that the findings of the study offer a better understanding of the glacial dynamics and of how Antarctica has reacted to climate changes over time. According to her the saturated sediments below the surface have an impact on the productivity of things which feed ocean food webs. This enables scientists to understand the flow of nutrients and the way in which this affects the health of the ecosystem.
The scientists believe that these brines could also have microbial communities in deep groundwater. Thus they could offer information about how microbes can survive in such extreme conditions. This can be used as a basis for exploring subsurface habitats on Mars.
There are two ways in which the water underneath Taylor Valley could have become so salty. One possibility would be that large lakes which once filled the valley froze and evaporated. The other possibility is that in the past water has flooded the canyons and as it retreated it left traces behind.
Scientists are intrigued by these new results as the Antarctic valleys are believed to be very close to life conditions on Mars. Analogously briny groundwater could exist on Mars when the planet was left without water and turned to a dry environment.
Geobiologist Dawn Sumner of the University of California said:
“I find it a very interesting and exciting study because the hydrology of the Dry Valleys has a complicated history and there’s been very little data about what’s happening in the subsurface.”
Image Source: Gizmodo