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Antarctica May Contain "Oasis of Life"

If scientists peeled back the Antarctic ice sheet, a complex system of complex rivers of lakes similar to Earth's surface would emerge.

To date little is known about this inaccessible environment, although preliminary research suggests subglacial bodies of water may harbor some basic life-forms.

Illustration courtesy Zina Deretsky/NSF


Antarctica is not a barren polar desert but a rich, complex environment that may contain a thriving "oasis of life," experts say.

Researchers have uncovered a complex subglacial system miles under the ice where rivers larger than the Amazon link a series of "lake districts," which may teem with mineral-hungry microbes.

This watery environment may be more than one-and-a-half times the size of the United States, scientists say, which would make it the world's largest wetland.

"This is essentially a whole new world that ten years ago we didn't know existed," said Michael Studinger, a geophysicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York.

"If you peel back the ice sheet, you would expect a watery landscape similar to what we would see on the surface of Earth."

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