The existence of life-supporting aquifers in Antarctica means that there is a chance they also exist on Mars, given the similarities between Antarctica and the Red Planet. The site of the discovery is known as the McMurdo Dry Valleys, which is one of the coldest, driest environments on Earth, writes Meghan DeMaria for The Week.
Study finds saltwater far beneath surface of Antarctica
The original study was published in the journal Nature Communications, and explains the significance of the find. It is potentially huge news in the search for life on Mars because the saltwater was found at temperatures that could support microbial life.
Scientists found the Antarctic saltwater using an antenna hanging from a helicopter which acted as an electromagnetic sensor, generating an electromagnetic field which penetrated through the ice and soil on the surface of the dry valley. The sensor revealed that underneath its frozen surface, Antarctica hides a system of liquid aquifers which are connected to each other. It is thought that the saltwater aquifiers could have been formed from ancient ocean deposits, or a lake which has since evaporated.
Heightened possibility of life on Mars
The scientific community currently believes that the surface of Mars is too cold for any form of life to be present there, but its subsurface could support life forms. The discovery that Antarctica’s subsurface is capable of supporting life is encouraging news for those searching for life on Mars. The team will now study other regions of Antarctica to investigate whether there are seawater networks in other areas.
Researchers are able to investigate the limits of life, where it exists on Earth, and whereabouts certain ecosystems exist on our planet. “I think that habitats suitable for life are just about everywhere on this planet, and learning about these environments is important not only for understanding life on Earth but also for understanding life on other planets,” says Ross Virginia, an ecosystem environmentalist at Dartmouth College and a co-author of the study.