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Earth Science

Sub-Ice Antarctic Lake Vida Abounds With Life 122

Posted by timothy
from the time-to-make-a-pan-galactic-gargle-blaster dept.
ananyo writes "It is permanently covered by a massive cap of ice up to 27 metres thick, is six times saltier than normal sea water, and at 13 C is one of the coldest aquatic environments on Earth — yet Lake Vida in Antarctica teems with life. Scientists drilling into the lake have found abundant and diverse bacteria, including at least one new phylum (full paper (PDF)). The find increases the chances that life may exist (or have once existed) on planets such as Mars and moons such as Jupiter's Europa."
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Sub-Ice Antarctic Lake Vida Abounds With Life

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  • 13 C is not cold (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:13AM (#42105003)

    And that's because the article says -13C and not +13C which is quite a bit of difference. It'd be cool if the editors actually did their editing work ;-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "And that's because the article says -13C and not +13C which is quite a bit of difference. It'd be cool if the editors actually did their editing work ;-)"

      It would indeed be cooler.

    • And that's because the article says -13C and not +13C which is quite a bit of difference. It'd be cool if the editors actually did their editing work ;-)

      I don't know. 13C is already a little cool in some parts of the country.

      • And that's because the article says -13C and not +13C which is quite a bit of difference. It'd be cool if the editors actually did their editing work ;-)

        I don't know. 13C is already a little cool in some parts of the country.

        In late November? Maybe in Texas or Arizona, but here in northwestern Missouri, it's closer to 13F than 13C.

  • "... and at -13 C is one of the coldest aquatic environments ..."

  • by jovius (974690) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:19AM (#42105083)

    Lake Vida was cool before it was hot.

  • Not quite... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Troyusrex (2446430) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:23AM (#42105109)

    The find increases the chances that life may exist (or have once existed) on planets such as Mars and moons such as Jupiter's Europa.

    So life on other planets is dependent on our knowledge? Sounds doubtful. It may increase our reason to believe that such life is possible, but not whether that life actual exists/existed.

    • Re:Not quite... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:32AM (#42105187)

      Maybe you're not clear on the concept of probability. This is used to reason about things of which we lack certain knowledge.
      Life on other planets is not dependent on our knowledge, but the probability of life on other planets definitely is.
      A clue that probability is being referred to is the use of the phrase "increases the chances".

      • by mevets (322601)

        Wow, a double whoosh. Awesome.

      • I'll just link the raven paradox [wikipedia.org] here in order to maximize the confusion.
        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          Sometimes smart people can be really stupid. The paradox only exists in not understanding logic. Each link in a logic chain is dependent on the other links. Logic doesn't speak to truth but to relativity. Sometimes people confuse reality (well, actually, their subjective reality) with thought games... usually people who spend all their time in their mind. :)
          • What?

            Logicians and mathematicians all agree that the paradox is true. Observing a non-black non-raven is positive evidence that all ravens are black. The "resolution of the paradox" lies either in arguing that this positive evidence increases the probability of all ravens being black by an extremely tiny amount, or in arguing that we only see the situation as paradoxical because we already know the outcome.

            Indeed, one finds the same situation in modern science: the only observed scalar particle is the
            • by Jmc23 (2353706)
              A non-black non-raven is proof of absolutely nothing unless you've already established a rule that all ravens are black. It's relative. There is no paradox when you've implicitly created the rules.

              They just seem to be baffled by the fact that creating a rule, i.e., creating a description/definition, has implications. The problem with logic is that it works with givens, and in reality there are no givens, we just have workable descriptions. Godel-Escher-Bach, rinse & repeat.

              • Au contraire, it seems to me that the paradox is stronger the more observations you make. For a situation like I described with the Higgs boson, there is nothing paradoxical about it.
                • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                  There's the problem, it SEEMS to you. You're trapped in the matrix and you don't know it.
                  • This has been fun so far. How do you feel about the Halting problem [wikipedia.org]?
                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      Well, I don't "feel" anything about it. It does seem intriquing... if you like getting lost (or finding the limits) in your own constructs. I wasn't familiar with it before you mentionned it, kind of gave up on math at 13 when I realized 2 important things. One, there are no such things as numbers in reality. Two, therefore all truths, and limitations, which are derivable from math are implicit in the axioms used in constructing the model.

                      You see, the problem with numbers is that there doesn't exist

                    • Huh, interesting. Do you even think there are no "two electrons"? No, since electrons are fermions, lets say "two cooper pairs".
                      As to the halting problem: yes, I think "waiting until everything has interacted with everything" captures the crux of it. If time and space were equal, there would be no problem. But in that case I do not understand how a being would exist in the first place.
                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      I've given a lot of thought to things like Cooper pairs and Bose-Einstein condensates. It's part of the reason for the system I'm building. Science, unfortunately, doesn't have a revision system. So errors corrected decades later, might only slowly propagate within the field and may not ever make it outside of the field as the fields have narrowed so much. On top of this, data and interpretation of the data are usually intermixed and given equal truth values. So I'm building a system that will cleanl
                    • by Raenex (947668)

                      You see, the problem with numbers is that there doesn't exist 2 of anything in reality. The concept of 2 is derived from generalizations of reality imposed by the limitations of our sensory apparatus.

                      That sounds like a worthless proposition that seeks to deny everyday reality without any justification.

                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      Well, it depends on what you want to do. At 13 I didn't want to waste my time on a system that could eventually be 'solved' as the consequences of it's axioms were discovered. Infinite monkeys and so on. That isn't a problem to work on, it's like menial labour.

                      Don't get me wrong, we need the monkeys. I just thought it would be more interesting to work on a unifying theory of science and spirituality, just because people seemed to view, and largely still do, that as ridiculous, impossible, opposites b

                    • by Raenex (947668)

                      There's a difference between not wanting to do math versus denying the basic reality of the number 2. As for "menial labour", that's bullshit. Mathematicians are clever. The naive, bunch of monkeys typing away approach doesn't work very well.

                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      I'm sorry. Please explain the basic reality of the number 2 to me as it seems to be so apparent to you.

                      Children with meccano can be clever as well, but they're still limited by the building blocks they have at their disposal. Try not to take ridiculous things literally, there are such things as analogies, metaphors, etc...

                    • by Raenex (947668)

                      Please explain the basic reality of the number 2 to me as it seems to be so apparent to you.

                      I'd like to better understand how you could deny such a basic concept that can be seen everywhere. I have two apples and give one to my friend. I have one apple left to eat. Repeat ad nauseam for just about any item. Numbers are used for counting sheep, money in your bank account, or the number of letters in this sentence. I could go on and on, and I'm sure you don't deny this.

                      Now you can get into a philosophical debate about what it means to "really" exist, but I find that it's pointless. It's an undeniabl

                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      Ignorance is bliss. People can only see what they can understand.
                    • by Raenex (947668)

                      You asked for my explanation, and I gave you one. As you provide no counter-point, I go back to my original statement: "That sounds like a worthless proposition that seeks to deny everyday reality without any justification."

                    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                      I'll be nice. Your explanation was already taken care of in my previous posts. If you failed to understand it, there's nothing I can do about that. But perhaps research the difference between descriptive categories and uniqueness. I'm using different words for the same concept, but that probably won't make any difference because people can't see what they don't understand.
                    • by Raenex (947668)

                      If you failed to understand it, there's nothing I can do about that.

                      Perhaps there's nothing you can do about it because the problem is with your ability to explain, or more fundamentally, your claims are specious.

          • by Raenex (947668)

            Sometimes smart people can be really stupid.

            Yes, and sometimes people who claim others are stupid are making a mistake. I won't go so far as to say you're being stupid.

            The paradox only exists in not understanding logic.

            It's about intuition. I think it's a fascinating and illustrative problem.

            Logic doesn't speak to truth but to relativity.

            Relativity to what? Logic is about finding truth.

            Sometimes people confuse reality (well, actually, their subjective reality) with thought games...

            Yes, but then those "thought games" can be very useful models of reality, and paradoxes serve to refine their usefulness.

    • by morgauxo (974071)
      Until we actually observe it alien life is in an unfortunate state of both existing and not existing. Showing it is possible for it to exist gives us a reason to look for it which gives us a chance to observe it so it can finally exist for real. Hopefully nobody observes us before we get there or if they do then hopefully they find us actually existing otherwise we will not exist and so we can't actually go observe alien life and it will be stuck both existing and not existing forever. Then again, it may
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:27AM (#42105145)

    Sorry, Sony. You know it's true.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    let's hope they won't dig up any shoggoths...

  • It in no way increases the chance of finding life in those places.
    It merely increases our perception of the chance of finding life.

    • by PhilHibbs (4537)

      Kind of. The presence of life indicates that life is more likely to be present in cold lakes than if there were no life down there. "Chance" was a poor choice of words. "Likelihood" is better. "Chance" indicates that someone rolls the dice when we get there, and the presence or absence of life hangs on the dice roll. And lets not get into macroscopic quantum waveform collapse... :)

  • by Coisiche (2000870) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:00AM (#42105449)

    Antarctica wasn't always icebound. Once it would have been filled with life until plate tectonics moved it to the south pole. So there is a significant difference to the likes of Mars and moons orbiting the gas giants in that life under the ice first evolved under different conditions somewhere else and has adapted to the changing conditions as the land iced over.

    • Mars wasn't always a frigid desert. Once it could have been filled with life and liquid water until it drifted further from the sun.

      Same goes for moons, but substitute closer to the sun with more geologic activity or greater tidal stresses... either of which could have caused significantly different environments than they have now.

      • by Coisiche (2000870)

        Granted, but the point I was trying to make is that we know there was definitely life on the Antarctic continent before it became glaciated. Regardless of what environmental changes the other places might have gone through over the millennia, we cannot yet be certain that they ever supported life.

        Maybe Curiosity will find evidence on Mars but it's going to be a long time until that question can be answered for the gas giant moons.

  • Want is not relevant (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PhilHibbs (4537)

    “It is quite remarkable that something wants to live in that cold, dark and salty environment at all.”

    It's not like the life there has a choice of where to live.

  • Only 2800 years? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:33AM (#42105763)
    2800 years doesn't sound like a very long time for this lake to have had it's ice cap. 2800 years ago is still well within the range of human history! It's nothing to geology! So.. how was the lake uncapped 2800 years ago? I know that Antarctica was in a warmer, higher latitude before it moved to the polar region but 2800 years of continental drift should be what, between 100 and 1000 feet? Was there a warming trend back then even bigger than the one today? I wouldn't think there would be all that much evolution even during that short a time so if so the species we know survived it. That revelation sounds like a global warming denier field day! I'm not trying to hand them any arguments, I'm only trying to ask the question. What happened ~2800 years ago?
    • Re:Only 2800 years? (Score:4, Informative)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:42AM (#42105845)

      It just said sealed for 2800 years... nothing about being in a warmer climate then. There's any number of things that could have caused it to be unsealed (which is not the same thing is completely open) up until ~2800 years ago. Maybe there was a subsurface channel connecting it to the ocean, maybe there was a chasm leading from the surface, maybe a meteor strike penetrated the cap.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Bacteria evolve very quickly. 2800 years is billions of generations for life in that lake.

    • Was there a warming trend back then even bigger than the one today?

      Yes. Maps from even more recent times show the coastlines of Antarctica that we can only recently confirm (through the ice sheets) with modern technology.

      Much of that three miles of ice on Antarctica was distributed throughout the climate. The Sahara wasn't a monstrous desert, for instance, and the Middle East was a font of life and commerce.

      But the real modern concern is property values in Western Europe, which are 'propped up' by the Gul

      • by morgauxo (974071)

        I've heard of those Antarctic maps but not from a reputable source. Have you?

        • I've heard of those Antarctic maps but not from a reputable source. Have you?

          I've seen them. Nobody disputes their authenticity, only what they represent. I've literally read something along the lines of "the indicated land mass can't be Antarctica because it wasn't spotted until 1815". On Wikipedia or something.

          They seems to be largely compiled from Chinese maps. We know for a fact that China had massive seafaring prowess early in the last millenium and gave it up. The critics will say the maps could

  • Water = Life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by T.E.D. (34228) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#42105893)

    Everywhere we've looked on this planet, including sulfuric volcanic fissures miles under the surface [nationalgeographic.com], where there's water we've found life. Clearly this planet is infested with it.

    At some point finding life in a weird new liquid water-based environment on Earth has to cease being news.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, there is a good reason why this is news. It means that there is greater variety in life than was expected. And yes, 30 years ago, when I got my degree in microbiology, nobody would have thought that life could exist in 100C+ or in 0C- water. It really is remarkable that we are finding these extremaphiles in these locations.
      • by T.E.D. (34228)

        So for you "news" is anything that would have been surprising 30 years ago?

        Slashdot is a great place for you then.

        • There are weather events all the time on earth, yet weather events are in the news every single day. Do complain about meteorologists as well?

          No one said this was a shocking, groundbreaking discovery, only that it adds to what we already know.

          (Also, I'm a fan juvenile dicks making useless troll comments, so people like you have made Slashdot a fabulous place for me. Thanks!)
    • by amorsen (7485)

      Not everywhere. Lake Vostok so far appears to be dead.

      • by T.E.D. (34228)
        Yes, for my money, that's the bit in there that is news (although the language used indicates they still expect to find life there one day).
  • The summary title seems to come from the Department of Redundancy Department. :)
  • The find increases the chances that life may exist (or have once existed) on planets such as Mars and moons such as Jupiter's Europa.

    Isn't the find kind of irrelevant to the chances that life exists elsewhere? It's like saying that, if I lose two socks and find one 3 years later, then I therefore have an increased chance of finding the second sock sooner rather than later. The first has nothing to do with the second. The existence of life in one place on Earth has little to do with chances of finding life elsewhere, since they're two independent events.

  • "The find increases the chances that life may exist (or have once existed) on planets such as Mars and moons such as Jupiter's Europa."

    Yeah, I wouldn't count on that. Life may be able to adapt to extreme environments, but I have serious doubts about it "spawning" in permanent sub-freezing conditions. Nevermind that we still have no idea whether or not life is unique to Earth. Let's not forget that the Antarctic once straddled the equator, giving life a chance to take hold, then adapt over its slow southward slide to the pole. And what djh2400 said.

  • The BBC article [bbc.co.uk] goes into more detail:

    Lake Vida, the largest of several unique lakes found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, contains no oxygen, is acidic, mostly frozen and possesses the highest nitrous oxide levels of any natural water body on Earth.

    The abundance of different chemical compounds present in the lake led the researchers to conclude that chemical reactions were taking place between the brine and the underlying iron-rich sediments, producing the nitrous oxide and molecular hydrogen.
    [...]
    "It's plausi

  • "The find increases the chances that life may exist"...
    I don't think any find here on Earth can increase chances anywhere else.
    The chances of life existing elsewhere is unchanging. Regardless of what humans discover.
    I think it just increases the hope of those wishing for the discovery life on other planets.
    I personally think it's a false hope, although I'd be excited to be proven wrong.
    I also think it's dangerous to rely on a belief in life on other planets, as far as we know life here is rare and uni

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