Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Research Team Discovers First Evidence Of Microbes Living In A Rock Glacier

Date:
December 14, 2004
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
Scientists have discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life.

Rock glacier, photographed at the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site.
Credit: Meredith Knauf, University of Colorado at Boulder

Arlington, Va.-- Scientists have discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life.

Found in an intermittent stream draining from the glacier, the evidence includes traces of dissolved organic material and high levels of nitrates, said Mark Williams, a scientist at Colorado University (CU)-Boulder. The high nitrate levels are believed to be a result of microbes metabolizing nitrogen within the glacier, said CU-Boulder graduate student Meredith Knauf.

Knauf will give a presentation on Dec. 13 about the discovery, at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held Dec. 13 to Dec. 17 in San Francisco, Calif.

Rock glaciers are large masses of rock debris interspersed with ice in the high mountains of temperate areas. Moving at speeds of just inches or a few feet a year, rock glaciers require an extremely cold environment, large amounts of rock debris and enough of a slope to allow them to slide.

Williams said the microbial "signature" discovered by the team in the rock glacier, located in the Green Lakes Valley watershed 30 miles west of Boulder, Colo., is similar to that found recently in semi-frozen lakes in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The unexpected discovery of microbes in that hostile Antarctica region has enthused scientists hunting for life in inhospitable environments, he said.

The Green Lakes Valley watershed is part of the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Niwot Ridge is the only one of NSF's 26 LTER sites worldwide that is located in a sub-alpine and alpine environment.

"The finding that similar microbes occupy similar habitats in Colorado and Antarctica should spur other discoveries elsewhere in these environments," said Henry Gholz, director of NSF’s LTER program. "The challenge now is to explain the role of these microbes in the ecosystem."

Added Williams, “Rock glaciers are not biological deserts as had been previously thought. This is one more example that microbes can live in the most extreme of environments."

Both the amount of dissolved organic matter and nitrate levels from microbial activity in the rock glacier rose dramatically from the late spring to the early fall in 2003, said Knauf. "This increase indicates that the biological signal is coming from meltwater inside the rock glacier, rather than from terrestrial microbial activity in the tundra around it," she said.

The dissolved organic carbon molecules from the rock glacier, which are large and complex, are very similar in structure to molecules found by the researchers in Antarctica, said Knauf. "The microbial activity we are seeing appears to be much more like what researchers have found in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica than anything found in North American temperate areas," she said.

Microbes, which are microscopic, single-celled organisms, have been found in boiling water in deep-sea ocean vents, clinging to ice in subterranean polar lakes and living in rocks two miles underground. Such microbes, known popularly as "extremophiles," also have been found living inside of nuclear reactors and even in the brickwork of 4,800-year-old Peruvian pyramids.

Because scientists suspect that Earth's most extreme environments resemble environments found on distant planets, such examples of extremophiles on Earth have caught the interest of astrobiologists, said Williams. "Parts of Antarctica are seen as an analog to environments on Mars by researchers, and we see this rock glacier environment as a new analogue to Antarctica," he said.

Microbes, which have been shown to metabolize elements like iron, nitrogen and sulfur, appear to require water in order to live, grow and reproduce. Previously at the Niwot Ridge study area, microbes living under the tundra snow pack have been shown to be active in sub-zero conditions, breaking down plant material and metabolizing nitrogen in the dead of winter, Williams said.

After the discovery in the Green Lakes Valley, the CU-Boulder research team discovered evidence of microbial life in rock glaciers in southern Colorado and in Wyoming, said Knauf.

Other CU-Boulder researchers involved in the study include Nel Caine, Rose Cory and Fengjing Liu.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Research Team Discovers First Evidence Of Microbes Living In A Rock Glacier." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 December 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041214081836.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2004, December 14). Research Team Discovers First Evidence Of Microbes Living In A Rock Glacier. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041214081836.htm
National Science Foundation. "Research Team Discovers First Evidence Of Microbes Living In A Rock Glacier." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041214081836.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: 12 More Bodies Found on Japan Volcano

Raw: 12 More Bodies Found on Japan Volcano

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A dozen more bodies were found Wednesday as Japanese rescuers resumed efforts to find survivors and retrieve bodies of those trapped by Mount Ontake's eruption. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Trapped Scientist Rescued from Cave in Peru

Raw: Trapped Scientist Rescued from Cave in Peru

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A Spanish scientist, who spent 12 days trapped about 1300 feet underground in a cave in Peru's remote Amazon region, was rescued on Tuesday. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins