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More: TOUCHING LIFE UNDER THE ICE

Ed Adams is an engineering professor at Montana State University. He is investigating microbial life found attached to sediment within the permanent ice of Antarctic lakes. He is also knowledgeable about similar life linked to Lake Vostok, a huge lake of liquid water located several kilometers under the Antarctic ice cap.

He took the Base Camp Earth team into the freezer where his Antarctic samples are kept, and took some out out for examination. The team saw and touched the aggregations of rock sediment in the ice, which is where an entire mini-ecosystem of microbes live. Evidently enough sunshine penetrates the ice during the Antarctic summer to melt a little bit of water around the sediment, even though the temperature of the lake itself averages 20 below 0 C and never rises above freezing.

Ed explained that the conditions found at Lake Vostok are very similar. The lake is liquid because it is warmed very slightly by the earth below it, and because the pressure of the ice above it keeps it from freezing. Scientists have found signs of microbial life in the ice just above the lake, but they have not drilled into the lake itself yet because no one can figure out how to do it without contaminating the lake. Lake Vostok may contain organisms that have been cut off from the rest of the world for millions of years. It is also an environment that may closely match those found on some other worlds, such as Jupiter's moon, Europa.