A microbial ecosystem beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet

The WISSARD Science Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

107 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Liquid water has been known to occur beneath the Antarctic ice sheet for more than 40 years, but only recently have these subglacial aqueous environments been recognized as microbial ecosystems that may influence biogeochemical transformations on a global scale. Here we present the first geomicrobiological description of water and surficial sediments obtained from direct sampling of a subglacial Antarctic lake. Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) lies beneath approximately 800 m of ice on the lower portion of the Whillans Ice Stream (WIS) in West Antarctica and is part of an extensive and evolving subglacial drainage network. The water column of SLW contained metabolically active microorganisms and was derived primarily from glacial ice melt with solute sources from lithogenic weathering and a minor seawater component. Heterotrophic and autotrophic production data together with small subunit ribosomal RNA gene sequencing and biogeochemical data indicate that SLW is a chemosynthetically driven ecosystem inhabited by a diverse assemblage of bacteria and archaea. Our results confirm that aquatic environments beneath the Antarctic ice sheet support viable microbial ecosystems, corroborating previous reports suggesting that they contain globally relevant pools of carbon and microbes that can mobilize elements from the lithosphere and influence Southern Ocean geochemical and biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-313
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume512
Issue number7514
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 21 2014

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Ice Cover
Lakes
Ecosystem
Ice
Water
RNA Sequence Analysis
Archaea
Seawater
rRNA Genes
Oceans and Seas
Drainage
Carbon
Bacteria

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Cite this

The WISSARD Science Team. / A microbial ecosystem beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet. In: Nature. 2014 ; Vol. 512, No. 7514. pp. 310-313.
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The WISSARD Science Team 2014, 'A microbial ecosystem beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet', Nature, vol. 512, no. 7514, pp. 310-313. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13667

A microbial ecosystem beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet. / The WISSARD Science Team.

In: Nature, Vol. 512, No. 7514, 21.08.2014, p. 310-313.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - A microbial ecosystem beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet

AU - The WISSARD Science Team

AU - Christner, Brent C.

AU - Priscu, John C.

AU - Achberger, Amanda M.

AU - Barbante, Carlo

AU - Carter, Sasha P.

AU - Christianson, Knut

AU - Michaud, Alexander B.

AU - Mikucki, Jill A.

AU - Mitchell, Andrew C.

AU - Skidmore, Mark L.

AU - Vick-Majors, Trista J.

AU - Adkins, W. P.

AU - Anandakrishnan, Sridhar

AU - Anandakrishnan, S.

AU - Beem, L.

AU - Behar, A.

AU - Beitch, M.

AU - Bolsey, R.

AU - Branecky, C.

AU - Fisher, A.

AU - Foley, N.

AU - Mankoff, K. D.

AU - Sampson, D.

AU - Tulaczyk, S.

AU - Edwards, R.

AU - Kelley, S.

AU - Sherve, J.

AU - Fricker, H. A.

AU - Siegfried, S.

AU - Guthrie, B.

AU - Hodson, Timothy

AU - Powell, R.

AU - Scherer, R.

AU - Horgan, H.

AU - Jacobel, R.

AU - McBryan, E.

AU - Purcell, A.

PY - 2014/8/21

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N2 - Liquid water has been known to occur beneath the Antarctic ice sheet for more than 40 years, but only recently have these subglacial aqueous environments been recognized as microbial ecosystems that may influence biogeochemical transformations on a global scale. Here we present the first geomicrobiological description of water and surficial sediments obtained from direct sampling of a subglacial Antarctic lake. Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) lies beneath approximately 800 m of ice on the lower portion of the Whillans Ice Stream (WIS) in West Antarctica and is part of an extensive and evolving subglacial drainage network. The water column of SLW contained metabolically active microorganisms and was derived primarily from glacial ice melt with solute sources from lithogenic weathering and a minor seawater component. Heterotrophic and autotrophic production data together with small subunit ribosomal RNA gene sequencing and biogeochemical data indicate that SLW is a chemosynthetically driven ecosystem inhabited by a diverse assemblage of bacteria and archaea. Our results confirm that aquatic environments beneath the Antarctic ice sheet support viable microbial ecosystems, corroborating previous reports suggesting that they contain globally relevant pools of carbon and microbes that can mobilize elements from the lithosphere and influence Southern Ocean geochemical and biological systems.

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