The permafrost kingdom is as intriguing as space for researchers. It’s melting rapidly, exposing its centuries-old secrets and dragging us even further into its depths. Anything could be hiding under the sparkling snow-covered cap of a glacier. Scientists ask themselves what secrets Antarctica hides from themselves under the thick layer of ice? What if it is keeping traces of ancient civilizations or unusual creatures buried under its ice? Or maybe it’s where deadly viruses or bacteria are hiding.
Greenland opened the veil of secrecy at the end of 2019. A group of Japanese and Norwegian researchers reported that the second largest ice sheet is hiding an underground river with a length of about 1,600 kilometers. That’s a 1000 mile. Scientists discovered the river using special radars that can map the location of under-ice rocks. Sections of the flat bottom were located at a depth of 300 to 500 meters. That’s 984 four to 1640 feet below sea level.
And in some places dropped even below three kilometers. That’s one point nine miles. Based on these data, scientists have built a computer model of the under ice topography.
If it’s a river, then the source is located right in the center of the island. And its waters flow into the sea on the northern coast under the Petermann fjord. Scientists nicknamed the mysterious body of water The Dark River since the ice keeps most of it completely hidden under the ice from sunlight. If it really exists, I wonder if the existence of life there is possible. Scientists will be able to answer this question in the coming years.
Lake Vostok – Antarctica
In the meantime, Lake Vostok in Antarctica remains the most studied submerged body of water. The size of the lake is quite impressive. Lake Vostok covers an area of fifteen thousand seven hundred square kilometers. That’s six thousand sixty one square miles, and its depth reaches twelve hundred meters or almost 4000 feet. Ghost lakes don’t freeze to the bottom. Due to energy from the Rocky Bottom and the pressure of ice layers, the air temperature above the surface of the lake can reach minus eighty nine degrees Celsius.
That’s minus 128 Fahrenheit, while the average water temperature doesn’t go above -3 Celsius or 27 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be even warmer at greater depth, Up to 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit due to possible hydrothermal spring activity.
Sunlight does not reach to this depth. The pressure is up to 400 bars and the organic carbon content is very low. However, there is an abundance of oxygen 50 times more than in a typical body of water. Is life possible there? To answer this question, scientists had to drill through almost 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles of ice just to get to the lake itself. It was highly intensive work. A drill broke twice and the research had to be suspended for seven years to find a more advanced and safe drilling technology.
What is all this for??
Scientists started the work in 1989 and it was completed only after 24 years all for one reason. They finally found life in the lake.
We’re talking about the bacteria Hdrogenophulis Thermoluteolus’s DNA, which was discovered in ice samples in 2004. Surprisingly, this organism usually lives in Hot Springs. Its optimum temperature is between 50 to 52 degrees Celsius. That’s 122 to 125 Fahrenheit. So how did it end up in an ice lake? Most likely it came from the deep faults near the lake where it’s warm with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels. Seismic activity was also recorded in the vicinity of Lake Vostok, which could have lifted these bacteria from faults into the upper layers of the water.
The scientific world was later shocked by a big discovery in samples from Lake Vostok. American researchers found traces of the genetic material of bacteria often associated with marine mollusks, crustaceans and even fish. So can an invisible lake really be hiding such a rich ecosystem? The unusual finds may only be traces of the lake’s remembrance of ancient times when it was filled with various forms of life. Or maybe these are just traces of contamination from the drilling process. Scientists have yet to answer this question.
Scientists obtained the latest set of samples from Lake Vostok in January 2015. After cleaning the samples, Russian scientists reported finding 49 DNA samples of different groups of bacteria, but only two of them caught the researcher’s interest. One type of DNA turned out to be similar to the bacterium Janthinobacterium SP. The other belongs to an unknown species and had less than 86 percent in common with known living creatures of our planet. In 2018, scientists found a third possible inhabitant of Lake Vostok in old samples.
It was a representative of the genus Lactobacillus. So far, there are more questions about this bacterium than answers. This microorganism feeds on organic matter, which is almost non-existent in the ice lake. Could the bacteria have risen to the surface from the depths? The debates about the relict lake discoveries continue, but one thing is clear. The water in the lake is not sterile. It could be hiding many more of nature’s mysteries.
There will be a real breakthrough when a drill hits the bottom of the lake where the water is warmer and richer in mineral nutrients. True, you’ll have to wait until the invention of clean drilling technology, which will allow absolutely clean water samples without impurities.
So if there’s still life in the Ghost Lake, then there’s definitely a chance of finding its extraterrestrial form of life on a distant, icy oceans of insulators, the satellite of Saturn or Europa and The satellite of Jupiter.
Is it really good for us??
This is ours to consider if we should open this ice Pandora’s Box or not. Indeed, some pretty harmful creatures may be hiding under the ice. History knows cases when hazardous bacteria and viruses woke up as ice melted. For example, in 2016, a 12-year-old boy died from Anthrax in a remote part of the Russian tundra on the Yamal Peninsula. The diagnosis was confirmed in another 24 people. This virus affected animals too. The disease killed more than 2000 deers that people didn’t hear of in the region since 1941.
Most likely, the spread of this dangerous disease started from the carcass of an animal that was buried in frozen soil for many years. Hot air warmed the earth, and the bacteria that had been sleeping for over 75 years came to life. Scientists suppressed the outbreak quickly but they got seriously worried.
Every year, the earth heats up more and more, exposing layers of permafrost. In 2005, a group of American researchers managed to reconstruct the Spanish flu virus that killed 50 to 100 million people in 1918. The viral genes were found in the tissues of a deceased woman who once lived in the Alaskan tundra. Tests performed on animals showed that the reconstituted virus spread in the body at lightning speed, inevitably leading to death. It was even possible to revive a previously unknown bacterium from permafrost, where it slept in a frozen pond in Alaska for about 32000 years.
How old can they be??
The Microbe Carnobacterium Pleistocenium witnessed woolly mammoths roaming the earth during the Pleistocene, waking up after a long sleep. The bacterium began to move as if nothing had happened. Two years later, in 2007, scientists revived 8 million-year-old bacteria. Scientists found it deep under a glacier in the Beacon Valley and the Mullin’s Valley in Antarctica. Thanks to this discovery, scientists were able to establish a half-life of a genome in ice, which amounted to 1.1 million years.
The latest find by a group of international virologists was made public in early 2020. Scientists investigated ice samples from 15000 to 520000 years ago taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China. In the samples, they found DNA residues from 33 groups of viruses, 28 of which were previously unknown. Moreover, bacteria from two different layers of ice were very different from each other. Scientists have suggested that they were formed in completely different climatic periods. They have no doubt that this isn’t an error.
Urologists studied only clean ice thoroughly cleanse of all contamination. It’s too early to panic. The find is only of scientific interest. The DNA of viruses is not the virus itself. So it doesn’t pose a threat to humans. If more than a dozen viruses were found in a small area of ice, then how many surprises could all the ice sheets of the earth be concealing?? In an area of more than 50,000 square kilometers or almost 20,000 square miles, subglacial rivers and lakes, mysterious and unknown ecosystems, pathogenic viruses and bacteria, maybe we shouldn’t try to reveal all the centuries-old secrets that nature so carefully hides under the ice. Gradually with climate change, the puzzles will clear up themselves appearing on the surface of meltwater.