Warm Antarctic caves harbour secret life

Antarctica may seem like a barren ice desert, but according to a group of researchers, life may be thriving underneath the ice.

The extent of these caves is yet unknown to the scientists and they have reason to believe they could even be interconnected.

Most of the DNA found in the caves is similar to DNA from plants and animals found elsewhere in Antarctica but not all could be fully identified.

A glacial cave in Antarctica.

The next step will be to take a closer look at the caves and search for living organisms.

“Our findings support the notion that geothermal areas – including subglacial environments – can nurture biodiversity in glaciated regions”, the authors wrote.

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

Although there is no proof that the creatures still live in the caves today, the researchers plan to do a more extensive search.

The lead researcher of the study, DR Ceridwen Fraser, from the Australian National University, Canberra, has informed that Most of the DNA that was obtained from the warm caves was similar to that of the other plants animals present in Antarctica, and this discovery has indicated that many unknown or new species of plants and animals might be living inside these warm caves present beneath the large ice in Antarctica.

The temperature inside these caves is often ten degrees higher than the cold temperature outside.

Despite the continent’s freezing temperatures, Fraser said heat emanating from the volcanoes could make the caves quite hospitable, warm enough “to wear a t-shirt and be comfortable”, with light filtering deep down where the overlying ice was thin.

If living organisms indeed exist there, “it opens the door to an exciting new world”, Prof Laurie Connell, a co-researcher from the University of ME, said. Recent research has suggested that there are dozens of more volcanoes hidden under the ice on Earth’s southernmost continent, based on radar data that found conical shapes below the surface.

“We don’t yet know just how many cave systems exist around Antarctica’s volcanoes, or how interconnected these subglacial environments might be”, co-researcher from the University of Waikato Dr. Charles Lee said, Business Insider reported. According to Charles Lee, from the University of Waikato, said the caves are really hard to identify, get to and explore.

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