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Scientists find life in ice-capped Antarctica lake

Bacteria thrive without external energy input

Search for new life in isolated Antarctic environments pays off.

Research field camp on Lake Vida, located in Victoria Valley, the northern most of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Photo courtesy Desert Research Institute, Alison Murray.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An ongoing search for isolated life forms in Antartica is yielding results and shedding new light how organisms on Earth can survive in hostile conditions, according to researchers with the University of Illinois at Chicago and Nevada’s Desert Research Institute.

The scientists drilled out cores of ice covering a briny Antarctic lake, finding abundant and diverse metabolically active bacteria in an environment that has been isolated from the surface environment — and external sources of energy — for at least 2,800 years, according to two of the report’s authors, Peter Doran and Fabien Kenig.

Lake Vida, the largest of several unique lakes found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, contains no oxygen, is mostly frozen and possesses the highest nitrous oxide levels of any natural water body on Earth. A briny liquid that is approximately six times saltier than seawater percolates throughout the icy environment that has an average temperature of minus 13.5 degrees centigrade (or 8 degrees Fahrenheit). Continue reading

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Environment: Pine beetles add insult to injury

Study finds the insect epidemic may increase ambient levels of VOCs

Bark beetles may increase air pollution, as beetle-killed trees release up to 20 times more VOCs into the atmosphere.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As if millions of acres of dead forests aren’t enough, the waves of bark beetles spreading across the West may also be contributing to increased air pollution in the region.

A new study shows the insects can make trees release  up to 20 times more of certain organic substances that foster haze and air pollution in forested areas. The gases, classified as volatile organic compounds — meant to be a defense against the beetles — are released from the beetles’ bore holes.

VOCs are known to contribute to smog and haze that obscures views of natural landscapes in U.S. national parks and other natural areas where tourists flock in summer. The haze may in turn harm human health, reduce visibility and affect climate. Continue reading

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