Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers find evidence of groundwater in Antarctica's Dry Valleys

29.04.2015

Using a novel, helicopter-borne sensor to penetrate below the surface of large swathes of terrain, a team of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, has gathered compelling evidence that beneath the Antarctica ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys lies a salty aquifer that may support previously unknown microbial ecosystems and retain evidence of ancient climate change.

The team, which includes LSU hydrogeologist Peter Doran and researchers from the University of Tennessee; University of California-Santa Cruz; Dartmouth College; University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Wisconsin; Aarhus University in Denmark; and Sorbonne Universités, UPMC University in France, found that brines, or salty water, form extensive aquifers below glaciers, lakes and within permanently frozen soils. Their discovery will be featured in the April 28 edition of the open-access journal Nature Communications.

"These unfrozen materials appear to be relics of past surface ecosystems, and our findings provide compelling evidence that they now provide deep subsurface habitats for microbial life despite extreme environmental conditions," said the study's lead author Jill Mikucki, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. "We believe the application of novel below-ground visualization technologies can not only reveal hidden microbial habitats, but can also provide insight on glacial dynamics and how Antarctica responds to climate change."

In addition to providing answers about the biological adaptations of previously unknown ecosystems that persist in the extreme cold and dark of the Antarctic winter, the new information could also help scientists understand whether similar conditions might exist elsewhere in the solar system, specifically beneath the surface of Mars, which has many similarities to the dry valleys.

"Over billions of years of evolution, microbes seem to have adapted to conditions in almost all surface and near-surface environments on Earth. Tiny pore spaces filled with hyper-saline brine staying liquid down to -15 Celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit, may pose one of the greatest challenges to microbes," said Slawek Tulacyzk, a glaciologist and coauthor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "Our electromagnetic data indicates that margins of Antarctica may shelter a vast microbial habitat, in which limits of life are tested by difficult physical and chemical conditions."

The team also found evidence that brines flow towards the Antarctic coast from roughly 11 miles inland, eventually discharging into the Southern Ocean. It is possible that nutrients from microbial weathering in these deep brines are released, effecting near-shore biological productivity. However, the vast majority of Antarctica's coastal margins remain unexplored. This new survey highlights the importance of these sensitive interfaces.

The Division of Polar Programs in NSF's Geoscience's Directorate supported the AEM sensor project through a collaborative award to Mikucki, Tulacyzk and Ross Virginia, a biogeochemist at Dartmouth College. The division manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, through which it coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the Southernmost Continent and provides the logistical support to that research.

The researchers used a transient electromagnetic AEM sensor called SkyTEM, mounted to a helicopter, to produce extensive imagery of the subsurface of the coldest, driest desert on our planet, the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Using a helicopter to make the observations allowed large areas of rugged terrain to be efficiently surveyed.

The results shed new light on the history and evolution of the dry valley landscape, which, uniquely in the Antarctic is ice-free and which during the height of the southern summer has free-flowing rivers and streams. The dry valleys are also home to briny lakes at the surface and beneath at least one of the glaciers that intrude into the Valleys.

"Prior to this discovery, we considered the lakes to all be isolated from one another and the ocean, but this new data suggests that there is a connection between the lakes and the ocean, which is very interesting and potentially a game changer in how we view the geochemistry and history of the lakes," said Doran, LSU professor of geology & geophysics and John Franks Endowed Chair.

Doran, the first to hold the John Franks Endowed Chair in geology & geophysics, is a natural fit for this research team in that the ground water system examined in this study is closely associated with the perennially ice covered lakes in the region that he has been studying for more than 20 years.

Doran joined the research team after the data was collected and assisted with the data interpretation.

"The first phase of this research was a proof of concept study and we definitely proved the concept," he said, adding that the team is in the process of writing a new proposal to NSF to continue their work.

Overall, the dry valleys ecosystem -- cold, vegetation-free and home only to microscopic animal and plant life -- resembles, during the Antarctic summer, conditions on the surface on Mars.

In addition to many other studies, the dry valleys are home to projects that are investigating how climate has changed over geologic time.

"This project is studying the past and present climate to, in part, understand how climate change in the future will affect biodiversity and ecosystem processes," said Virginia. "This fantastic new view beneath the surface will help us sort out competing ideas and theories about how the dry valleys have changed with time and how this history influences what we see today."

The AEM sensor, which was developed at Aarhus University in Denmark, was flown over the Taylor Glacier, one of the best-studied glaciers in the world, in November 2011. The glacier has a unique feature known as Blood Falls, where iron-rich brine from the subsurface is released at the front of the glacier. Blood Falls is known to harbor an active microbial community, where organisms use iron and sulfur compounds for energy and growth and in the process facilitate rock weathering.

The AEM team believes that the newly discovered brines harbor similar microbial communities persisting in the deep, cold dark aquifers. AEM instrumentation lead Esben Auken has flown the sensor all over the world, but this was the first time they tackled Antarctica.

"Antarctica is by far the most challenging place we have been." Auken said. "It was all worth it when we saw the raw data as it was offloaded from the helicopter. It clearly showed we were on to some extraordinary results, which no one had been able to produce before. We were excited because we knew this would change the way scientists in the future would view the hydrological cycle in the dry valleys. For us, the project was the result of many years of developing the best mapping technology in the world, and now we were able to collaborate with scientists who had worked in the Antarctic environment for decades and were willing to take the risk of letting us prove this could be done with success."

###

Related Links:

Washington Post Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/04/28/the-dry-valleys-of-antarctica-may-actually-have-subsurface-water-full-of-life/

National Science Foundation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5plXAKlpDkQ&feature=youtu.be

Media Contact

Tara Kistler
tkistler@lsu.edu
225-578-3869

 @LSUResearchNews

http://www.lsu.edu 

Tara Kistler | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Antarctic Antarctica GLACIERS dark helicopter microbial

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Sediment from Himalayas may have made 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake more severe
26.05.2017 | Oregon State University

nachricht Devils Hole: Ancient Traces of Climate History
24.05.2017 | Universität Innsbruck

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>