McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica is one of the most isolated and harshest places in the world. Nothing can survive in this place of subzero temperatures and icy winds, or so we thought. Then we noticed the blood red liquid draining from Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney. It is almost as if some giant wounded the glacier with a spear and it is bleeding from the wound. Upon closer examination, scientific explorers made one of the most startling discoveries of our time. In a lifeless and alien-like place that is so harsh, nothing can survive we found primordial life. That “blood” that seeps from the wounded glacier is the stuff that life is made of.
Somewhere else on our planet, millions of years ago, the very first life form crawled out of this same kind of primordial pool.So how does the basic, building block foundation of life survive for so long in conditions so contrary to it? How could it survive in conditions so bad that we would never think to look for it? We still do not have a definite answer. What we do have is a new question. If a basic form of life can form and survive in this hostile place, could it also be present on another planet? I do not know, but i know an interesting and beautiful place when i see one. What scientists found is startling in that there is a living microbial ecosystem in a place where there is no oxygen. These microbes have devised a way to survive through manipulation of iron and sulfur compounds.
While this should be impossible, scientist are considering the possibility of the first known form of life that can “carbonize” iron. These tiny microbes are “Fixing” the carbon dioxide that iron produces. The term “Fixing” means that they can convert carbon dioxide to organic molecules to be consumed, making them the most efficient CO2 fixers on the planet. The possibilities that arise from studying this process are as far reaching as anything ever discovered before.
This is especially true if we could find a way to duplicate it.The scientists believe that several million years ago, Taylor Valley was inundated by the Ross Sea, like a fjord. As climate changed, and the sea retreated, a saltwater lake occupied the valley. Iron-containing salts from the sea water settled in the lake bed. As Taylor Glacier advanced, smothering the lake, it scooped up some of the iron-containing salts. After millions of years, the ancient lake-bed salt deposits have reached the edge of the glacier, and are being squeezed out at the margin.
The researchers also offered an explanation for why Lakes Bonney and Fryxell are saltwater, but Lake Hoare is freshwater. As the Ross Sea retreated, leaving behind a saltwater lake, the Canada Glacier was also advancing. At some point, the researchers think, the Canada Glacier advanced so far into Taylor Valley that it cut off the inland part from the sea. Saltwater lakes were left on either side, and a new freshwater lake, Lake Hoare, formed from glacial melt water on the lower (inland) side of the Canada Glacier. Confirmation of these hypotheses will come from continued drilling of sediment and ice cores in these Dry Valley lakes.