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Extremophiles Under the Ice
Jamais Cascio, 18 Jul 05

When the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed in 2002, it uncovered a previously unknown ecosystem: "cold-seep" extremophile organisms living in the near-freezing water in a trough covered by the ice shelf for 10,000 years.

Rare mollusks and bacterial mats thrived in the isolated water, with the energy for the ecosystem provided not by photosynthesis (as light couldn't make it through the ice) and not by volcanic eruptions, but by the chemical energy of methane released by undersea vents. Such cold-seep ecosystems have only been known of for about 20 years, and are found in just a few places world-wide. Exobiologists suspect that Jupiter's icy moon Europa may harbor life in cold-seep type environments.

Biologists are rushing to study this ecosystem, as the removal of the ice shelf means contamination with sediment and debris has already begun.

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