Warm hollowed-out cave systems under Antarctica glaciers could host a variety of life, Australian researchers recently discovered. Analyses of soil samples from caves around the area of Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island, yielded DNA from algae, mosses, and small animals. Most, but not all, of the DNA could be identified—also creating speculation that there might be new (or previously “lost”) species living there.
One of the most mysterious and coldest places on Earth, the icy continent is roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined, and has a population around 1,000-5,000 (mostly researchers). It has also been the subject of a number of myths and theories concerning “lost worlds”—lore that these recent discoveries tantalizingly revive.
Dr. Ceridwen Fraser from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society commented that these underground caves could be relatively warm, potentially supporting a variety of life:
It can be really warm inside the caves, up to 25 degrees Celsius in some caves…You could wear a T-shirt in there and be pretty comfortable. There’s light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin.
Myths about a Terra Australis (“Southern Land”) have gone back to ancient times. Among the theories about the continent over the years are that it might be home to the lost world of Atlantis, the location of a secret Nazi “UFO” base, the site of pyramids and/or hidden alien spacecraft, and on and on. The recent cave discoveries will no doubt keep some or all of these theories afloat in the minds of believers for some time.
Then there is also the very real question as to what might happen when the massive amount of long-dormant bacteria and viruses on Antarctica are “woken” up by the melting of the ice as global warming (or whatever you would like to call what is currently happening) continues.
And what else might be revealed as these mighty ice-structures melt.
At any rate, once again, as in the case of the “living library” of DNA and the idea of microchipped workers, what mostly existed in the realm of “fringe” theory and esoteric lore now just got a little bit of scientific “backup.”