A new study offers evidence that Antartica's Lake Vostok harbors its own unique ecosystem of life forms, despite being buried under two miles of ice for the past 15 million years. This is good news for scientists who are looking for life on other worlds.
It’s hard to imagine how harsh this underground world really is. Lake Vostok is the largest subglacial lake ever discovered and the 7th largest by volume in the entire world. It’s got more than 2 miles (3.7 km) of ice directly above it, immersing it in total darkness.
Consequently, scientists have, for very good reason, speculated that Lake Vostok is a sterile environment and completely devoid of life. The combination of frigid temperatures, heat (from hydrothermal vents), extreme water pressure (on account of all the ice above it), limited nutrients, and total darkness would certainly suggest conditions difficult for even the hardiest organisms.
A few months ago, Russian scientists claimed that the lake contains previously unidentified organisms. The claim was eventually dropped, however, as their samples were found to be contaminated.