Perpetually covered by more than 60 feet of ice, the brine below -- water that is five to seven times more salty than seawater -- has been found to be home to cryobiological microbes some 2,800 years old which were revived after a gradual thaw.
That widely reported finding came in 2002 from Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But the discovery raised many new questions. Now, Doran and his department colleague Fabien Kenig with collaborators from the Nevada-based Desert Research Institute will return to Lake Vida late next year for more exploration, funded by a $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant.
Doran and Kenig plan to perform the first-ever drilling entirely through Lake Vida's thick ice cap, into the brine, and down into sediment below, retrieving about 10 feet or more of core sample for analysis.
"The main goal is to get into that brine pocket and the sediment beneath it to both document and define the ecosystem that's there today, and the history of that ecosystem," Doran said.
The sediment samples could yield clues about life in such an extreme environment dating back thousands of years, which could help geoscientists draw a better picture of processes that occur as the Earth moves into colder periods.
"If we took, for example, a Wisconsin lake and started turning the temperatures down during a climatic downturn, what is the impact on the lake's ecosystem and what strategies are used by living things to survive this extremely cold brine?" Doran said of the salty liquid that hovers around 10 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. "There are few examples on Earth of things shown to live in that water temperature."
A University of Wisconsin group will drill the ice hole, but special care will be required in preparing the site. A tent will be partitioned to provide both a drilling site cover and adjacent laboratory to analyze samples. It will be sort of like setting up a hospital operating room in the Antarctic cold, with the drill requiring the sanitary cleanliness of a surgeon's scalpel to prevent any surface contaminants from ruining samples.
Kenig, an organic geochemist, will study the lake's carbon and organic chemistry as well as molecular fossils in the sediment core. These preserved organic compounds will point to changes in the ecosystem as the lake froze.
"As this environment was isolated for some time, we need to be very cautious not to introduce any external elements that could bias our samples," Kenig said. To assure sample purity, nothing plastic or rubber will be used in the drilling and all equipment penetrating the lake water and sediment will be sterilized.
While specially preserved samples will be shipped back to UIC and the Desert Research Institute for later analysis, some work, such as microbial counts, will be done on site. Doran's previous on-site research at Lake Vida found in the ice the highest concentration of nitrous oxide -- "laughing gas" -- of any ecosystem on Earth. It was a clue that would make any scientist smile.
"This gas is produced by microbes," Doran said. "That was a hint that we had a viable ecosystem there."
The NSF award is funded under the federal government's economic stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Paul Francuch | Newswise Science News
Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter
17.08.2017 | Swansea University
Climate change: In their old age, trees still accumulate large quantities of carbon
17.08.2017 | Universität Hamburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences