An absolutely astonishing find from the web edition of Scientific American. In what has to be one of the most remote and extreme locations on Earth, scientists have not only found microbial life but actually discovered a population of fish. It’s hard to say how long this miniature ecosystem has been cut off from the rest of the world but it’s possible it has been ever since Antarctica has been covered by ice. That would make it about 34 million years!
It’s hard to imagine what these animals have been feeding off of for all that time and the team making the discovery hasn’t been able to answer that question as of yet. It’s possible the ecosystem is sustained by hydrothermal vents.
I was glad to come across this article because just the other day I was watching this documentary about the history of our planet. In it, they showed they explained the Snowball Earth hypothesis, meaning that at least once during it’s 4.5 billion year history, Earth may have been covered by a vast ice sheet for several million years. I couldn’t help wonder at the time of watching how life, which had only just begun, could have survived a period of millions of years on a frozen planet covered in a thick ice sheet blocking out all sunlight and warmth. It seemed somewhat incredibly to me, though I imagine that if some life forms can survive in the harsh environment of outer space, a frozen planet wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.
However, this find shows that not only can microbial life survive trapped underneath the ice, even more complex life forms like small crustaceans and fish can survive under certain conditions. So while Snowball Earth may have looked barren and lifeless from space, life underneath the ice could have hung on and diversified. It’s somehow gratifying to think that we might be the descendants of these extreme survivors!
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