Secret life may thrive in warm caves under Antarctica’s glaciers

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Secret life may thrive in warm caves under Antarctica’s glaciers


  Last updated November 8, 2017 at 11:30 am


A new study led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found that animals and plants may live in warm caves under Antarctica’s glaciers.

Around Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica, steam has hollowed out extensive cave systems.

Lead researcher Dr Ceridwen Fraser from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, said forensic analyses of soil samples from these caves have revealed intriguing traces of DNA from algae, mosses and small animals.

“It can be really warm inside the caves – up to 25 degrees Celsius in some caves. 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.”

Dr Fraser said most of the DNA found in the caves on Mount Erebus was similar to DNA from plants and animals – including mosses, algae and invertebrates – found elsewhere in Antarctica, but not all sequences could be fully identified.

“The results from this study give us a tantalising glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica – there might even be new species of animals and plants,” she said.

Find out more about life in Antarctic caves on the Science at ANU website

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