Antarctica is well-known as a frozen, remote land, but new research suggests that the continent’s caves might be home to some “secret” forms of life.
According to Popular Mechanics, a multinational team of scientists spotted a vast network of cave systems around Mount Erebus, an active volcano located on Ross Island. Aside from gathering DNA samples belonging to algae, mosses, and tiny invertebrate animals, the researchers also discovered some peculiar DNA sequences that didn’t match up with any known living creature. That, together with the observation that the climate inside the caves could be warm enough to sustain various flora and fauna, might mean the caves are home to some never-before-seen plants or animals.
Just how warm is the climate inside these Antarctic caves? Speaking to BBC News, study co-author Dr. Ceridwen Fraser from the Australian National University said that some of the caves have temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), and are warm enough for people to wear a t-shirt inside and still feel comfortable.
“There’s light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin,” Fraser added.
Another researcher, University of Waikato (New Zealand) professor Craig Cary, noted that earlier studies had revealed that Antarctica’s volcanic caves are home to different types of bacteria and fungi. He stressed that his team’s findings could be a sign that “higher” plants and animals are also thriving in the area.
That all said, there is no physical proof that these “higher” forms of flora and fauna exist within the Antarctic caves in question. This was stressed by co-author Laurie Connell, a professor from the University of Maine, who was quoted by BBC News as saying that the team’s next steps would be to further investigate the caves and search for signs of life.
“If they exist, it opens the door to an exciting new world.”
Aside from Mount Erebus, Antarctica has more than 15 other active volcanoes, and that doesn’t count the 90-plus volcanoes recently discovered underneath the continent’s ice, as noted on a previous report from the Inquisitr. The researchers believe that these known active volcanoes could also come with their share of Antarctic ice cave networks, and might have different sets of unknown species. That would presumably require even more intensive research, but the possibilities are interesting, considering the otherwise frigid climate Antarctica is known for.
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