For the first time, scientists report, they have found bacteria living in the cold and dark deep under the Antarctic ice, a discovery that might advance knowledge of how life could survive on other planets or moons and that offers the first glimpse of a vast ecosystem of microscopic life in underground lakes in Antarctica.
A network of hundreds of lakes lies sandwiched between the continent’s land and the ice that covers it, and scientists had thought that it could harbor life. The discovery is the first confirmation.
“It transforms the way we view the Antarctic continent,” said John C. Priscu of Montana State University, a leader of the scientific expedition.
After drilling through a half-mile of ice into the 23-square-mile, 5-foot-deep Lake Whillans, the expedition scientists recovered water and sediment samples that showed clear signs of life, Dr. Priscu said, speaking from McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Tuesday. They saw cells under a microscope, and chemical tests showed that the cells were alive and metabolizing energy.