In Antarctic ice, cave systems exist underneath the Ross Island volcano Mount Erebus. Recently, it was discovered that the ice could be the breeding ground for an “exciting new world,” according to scientists from Australia National University.
They analyzed DNA obtained from the cave system, and found samples they couldn’t fully identify. Apparently being unable to identify such a specimen is an anomaly, and it indicates that unidentified species are living in the unique environment. Moss, algae, and other life was found to thrive there.
The caves in close proximity to volcanic Mount Erebus are among the hottest locations on the continent of Antarctica, along with other geothermally heated areas. Heat from the volcano has created vents in the ice, causing volcanic steam to hollow out ice and form “extensive and interconnected cave systems,” according to Newsweek.
“It can be really warm inside the caves—up to 25 degrees Celsius [77 degrees Fahrenheit] in some caves,” the lead researcher on the effort Ceidwen Fraser said. “You could wear a T-shirt in there and be pretty comfortable. There’s light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin.”
The study was published in a journal titled Polar Biology. In it, a team obtained soil samples from 3 volcanoes in Victoria Land, Antarctica, and from Mount Erebus’ subglacial caves.
The study found many different types of moss, arthropods, nematodes, and algae at every single site. The findings suggest that geothermal areas (heated by volcanic activity) can support life even when it is like an island, far detached from survivable conditions for miles outside the geothermal region.
“The results from this study give us a tantalizing glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica—there might even be new species of animals and plants.”
The researchers added that volcanoes and their subglacial caves are still actively being discovered in Antarctica. The study said:
“Despite recent advances in our broad understanding of Antarctic biodiversity, we still know little about life in the continent’s subglacial cave systems, which may harbor diverse and complex communities.”
Knowing how life seems to thrive in any place even remotely habitable for it on planet Earth, how likely is it that we are alone in the universe, or even the Solar System?
(Image credit: LightFootTravel)