LSU scientist assists with research in Antarctica
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - This year has been a breakthrough for the world of science. In January, a team discovered there is life below the surface of Antarctica. A microbiologist from LSU was part of the operation. He says what they found could determine if there's life elsewhere in the solar system.
There is something exciting about sediment that was collected almost a year ago, from deep under the Antarctic ice, for Dr. Brent Christner.
"That looks like dirt right? That's gold, that's absolute gold," he said.
That's because the sediment samples they collected contains lots of little micro-organisms. Christner says for more than a decade, he had been hoping to take samples just like those. Samples from places that are difficult to get to, like the lakes deep under Antarctica, where water flows.
"They're under very thick layers of ice. So this is the first time one has been drilled into and samples have been retrieved. This will give us a picture of how life can survive under thousands of feet of ice," Christner said.
A team that included an LSU undergraduate and a graduate students, left Louisiana in October 2012 to prepare the work site. In January 2013, once he was finished teaching for the semester, Christner joined the rest of the team in Antarctica. There they drilled down 800 meters, that's more than 2,500 feet, where they were able to take samples from the lake below.
It's a mission that took four years to make happen. Their actual access to the lake only lasted for four days.
"It doesn't look like much. When drilling's happening, there's not lights and whistles going off," Christner said.
Getting to the spot over the lake was also a task. The equipment they need, was in position before the team got to the location. It took a total of two-weeks for tractors to pull all their supplies to the place where the drilling happened.
Now, the samples they took are at the Life Sciences Building on LSU's campus. Dr. Christner plans to study how the organisms they found in the lake are able to survive in those conditions.
"What do those organisms eat when they're underneath thousands of feet of ice? We don't know the answer to that, but we know they aren't getting their energy from the sun."
That he says could be relevant to whether or not there is life elsewhere in the solar system, where similar conditions exist.
Dr. Christner says the team plans to travel back to Antarctica next year. This time to drill into an area of the ocean, through hundreds of feet of ice, in an area that has never been looked at before.