Unknown species may live in hidden Arctic caves

While Antarctica is one of the coldest places on Earth, the formations -- which are created by the steam from active volcanoes -- are warm and can reach temperatures of up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
By Dan Taylor | Sep 11, 2017
A team of researchers led by scientists at Australian National University have found that many undiscovered plant and animal species may lurk in the warm caves beneath Antarctica's glaciers, according to new research published in the international journal Polar Biology.

While Antarctica is one of the coldest places on Earth, the formations -- which are created by the steam from active volcanoes -- are warm and can reach temperatures of up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows different organisms to live in places where the above ice is thin.

Scientists first noted the caves while studying a volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica.Once the team uncovered the system, they then analyzed soil samples from the area. That process revealed unique traces of DNA from algae, moss, and different small animals. While most of the samples came from species found throughout Antarctica, some could not be fully identified.

"The results from this study give us a tantalizing glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica - there might even be new species of animals and plants," explainedlead author Ceridwen Fraser, a researcher at Australian National University, according to Phys.org. "The next step is to go and have a really good look and see if we can find communities living beneath the ice in Antarctica."

While the phenomenon is interesting, it is not entirely rare. There are many other volcano-created caves across the continent, and the team believes subglacial systems could be more common than many think. In fact, there are over 15 volcanoes in Antarctica that are either currently active or show evidence of recent activity.

The team hopes to continue their study to see what else they can uncover about the life that could exist in the caves. Scientists know a lot about Antarctic biodiversity, but there are still many questions that they hope further research will be able to answer.

"The next steps will be to take a closer look at the caves and search for living organisms," said study co-author, Laurie Connell, a professor at the University of Maine, according to BBC News."If they exist, it opens the door to an exciting new world."

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