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  • Maria Khan

Survival Lessons from Lakes Deep Below Antarctica’s Ice

Antarctica is earth’s southernmost continent. It is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of the continent is covered by ice, which together constitutes 80% of the world’s freshwater reserves. Antarctica also contains hundreds of subglacial lakes – water bodies that are covered under thick ice, some lakes lie beneath 20-feet thick ice while others have been found more than 2,000 to 10,000 feet deep below ice.

Researchers have been on a mission to find life beneath these ice sheets, several miles below the Antarctic surface. These subglacial lake have remained covered with thick ice sheets for more than 100 years. The lakes were long considered a place devoid of life. They were not listed in the biosphere, or the region of earth in which living organisms can exist.

One of the polar microbial ecologists John Priscu made ambitious plans to study these quiet, isolated places on our planet. The warmest temperature in Antarctica’s winter touches a severe minus 45 degrees Celsius. It is the coldest, driest and windiest continent. In these tough conditions, Priscu led research teams during the past three decades to drill several thousand feet deep down into the ice.


The team’s scientific endeavour has discovered something very startling. They found clear evidence of life. Microorganisms and bacteria manage to survive in these rare habitats. Since sunlight does not reach these deep, dark regions, the microbes cannot get energy from photosynthesis which uses sun’s rays to generate food. So, the microorganism in subglacial lakes have found a way of survival by utilizing ancient deposited organic matter for energy.

Not only this, these microbes produce several nutrients. These nutrients are transported to the nearby seawaters beneath ice sheets, helping to support life there as well. No one had imagined that such a flourishing ecosystem exists several thousand meters below solid ice.

When Priscu reached Antarctica for the first time for his drilling expedition, he saw ice everywhere around him. At this he exclaimed: “There can’t be this much real estate on Earth that’s dead.” His decades-long pursuit to find out whether life exists deep beneath ice sheets has been successful. Life does thrive in places long believed to be mere barren wastelands.

Often in life we come across moments when we feel totally dejected. It appears we can never make it to our target. We have already spent all our energy. We have no mental strength to face difficulties any more. We feel empty, hollow and drained.

We must remember that God has established a law of nature – life finds ways to exist even in the deepest, darkest conditions. If we “drill” deep enough, we will discover that we have been given the potential to endure, withstand and deal with the challenges before us. Deep in ourselves, we all have the resources to meet with obstacles.

We only have to uncover this latent potential. We have to strive hard, pursue with single-minded focus and overcome all odds. We will realize that what we have within is more powerful than the problem that exists outside of us. We will be startled to know that we were grieving over a difficult situation, although there is light in the depths of our own being, one that has the capacity to uplift us.

(ref. https://www.quantamagazine.org/john-priscu-finds-life-in-antarcticas-frozen-lakes-20200720/)


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