Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Research team discovers life in Rock Glacier

14.12.2004


A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life.


An image of a rock glacier, the large hump in front of the mountain in photo taken at the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site west of Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy Meredith Knauf, University of Colorado at Boulder



Found in an intermittent stream draining from the glacier, the evidence includes traces of dissolved organic material and high levels of nitrates, said Mark Williams, a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. The high nitrate levels are believed to be a result of microbes metabolizing nitrogen within the glacier, said CU-Boulder graduate student Meredith Knauf.

Rock glaciers are large masses of rock debris interspersed with ice in the high mountains of temperate areas. Moving at speeds of just inches or a few feet a year, they require an extremely cold environment, large amounts of rock debris and enough of a slope to allow them to slide.


"This is a very surprising finding, something we did not expect," said Williams. "The upshot is that we have shown that rock glaciers are not biological deserts as had been previously thought by scientists. This is one more example that microbes can live in the most extreme of environments."

Williams said the microbial "signature" discovered by the team in the rock glacier in the Green Lakes Valley watershed roughly 30 miles west of Boulder, Colo., is similar to that found recently in semi-frozen lakes in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The unexpected discovery of microbes in that hostile Antarctica region has enthused scientists hunting for life in inhospitable environments, he said.

Both the amount of dissolved organic matter and nitrate levels from microbial activity in the rock glacier rose dramatically from the late spring to the early fall in 2003, said Knauf of CU-Boulder’s geography department. "This increase indicates that the biological signal is coming from meltwater inside the rock glacier, rather than from terrestrial microbial activity in the tundra around it," she said.

Knauf gave a presentation on the discovery at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union held Dec. 13 to Dec. 17 in San Francisco.

The Green Lakes Valley watershed is part of the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site that is supported by the National Science Foundation. Niwot Ridge is the only one of NSF’s 26 LTER sites worldwide that is located in a sub-alpine and alpine environment.

The dissolved organic carbon molecules from the rock glacier, which are large and complex, are very similar in structure to molecules found by the researchers in Antarctica, said Knauf. "The microbial activity we are seeing appears to be much more like what researchers have found in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica than anything found in North American temperate areas," she said.

Microbes, which are microscopic, single-celled organisms, have been found residing in boiling water in deep-sea ocean vents, clinging to ice in subterranean polar lakes and living in rocks two miles underground. Such microbes, known popularly as "extremophiles," also have been found living inside of nuclear reactors and even in the brickwork of 4,800-year-old Peruvian pyramids.

Since Earth’s most extreme environments are thought by scientists to resemble environments found on distant planets, such examples of extremophiles on Earth have caught the interest of astrobiologists, said Williams. "Parts of Antarctica are seen as an analog to environments on Mars by researchers, and we see this rock glacier environment as a new analogue to Antarctica," he said.

Microbes, which have been shown to metabolize elements like iron, nitrogen and sulfur, appear to require water in order to live, grow and reproduce. Previously at the Niwot Ridge study area, microbes living under the tundra snow pack have been shown to be active in sub-zero conditions, breaking down plant material and metabolizing nitrogen in the dead of winter, Williams said.

Following the discovery in the Green Lakes Valley, the CU-Boulder research team discovered evidence of microbial life in rock glaciers in southern Colorado and in Wyoming, said Knauf.

Other CU-Boulder researchers involved in the study include INSTAAR Fellow Nel Caine, graduate student Rose Cory and former graduate student Fengjing Liu.

Mark Williams | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Satellites reveal bird habitat loss in California
28.03.2017 | Duke University

nachricht Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere
27.03.2017 | CAGE - Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers create artificial materials atom-by-atom

28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers show p300 protein may suppress leukemia in MDS patients

28.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>