News That Counts
Sea Monsters in Lake Huron
Exotic aquatic life, previously unknown, has been discovered in Lake Huron. This life will maybe also be found in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Could there be Great Lake monster, a Lake Huron Nessie lurking in the deep?
Scientists sometimes find the unexplored right at their doorstep. In researching environments, which could lead to a better understanding of Mars, scientists have been studying lakes permanently under ice in Antarctica, for features analogous to ancient Martian environments that may have been capable of supporting life. These isolated lakes contain lush, luxuriant microbial ecosystem that had never been known before. It was as if the scientists had gone in a time machine, back to the life’s beginnings on Earth, or to the surface of Mars billions of years ago.
In the 24 February 2009 edition of Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union, there is a description of a similar ecosystem. This one is in the scientists’ backyard, in the Great Lakes, in Lake Huron.
There are submerged sinkholes in the limestone formations under the lake, formed when the water there dissolved the ancient underlying lakebed, and carrying them into the lake to form these exotic, extreme environments. In these caverns, merely 70 feet (20 meters) below the surface are bizarre ecosystems.
The water is dense, oxygen-free and salty, very different and even hostile to the normal larger forms of life in the lake, which do not enter in. These caverns are inhabited by previously unknown microbes, with pale floating feathery microbial strands, and bright purple mats of weird cyanobacteria, cousins of the microbes found at the bottoms of permanently ice-covered lakes in Antarctica.
These exotic life forms remind one of life found in some of the Earth’s extreme conditions, such as 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) below the Mediterranean Sea, where salt concentrations are ten times higher than seawater, the pressure 400 times greater than atmospheric pressure, no light for photosynthesis, and no oxygen. Since light cannot penetrate water of this depth, there are no photosynthetic bacteria in the basins. Most of these organisms reduce sulphates for their metabolism.
Other recently discovered examples are the microbes in the Yellowstone National Park hot springs. Their environment is over 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius), which is too hot for photosynthesis to take place. It was found that they use hydrogen to fuel their metabolism.
These environments are also similar to those discovered 30 years ago, around deep-sea hydrothermal vents, where many odd forms of life, previously unknown, have been found.
The scientists wrote that some deep sinkholes act as catch basins for dead and decaying plant and animal matter and collect as a soft black sludge of sediment topped by a bacterial film. In the oxygen-depleted water, cyanobacteria carry out photosynthesis using sulphur compounds rather than water and give off hydrogen sulphide, the gas associated with rotting eggs. Where the sinkholes are deeper still and light fails, microorganisms use chemical means rather than photosynthesis to metabolize the sulphurous nutrients.
The sinkhole research, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, may shed light on how similar microbial communities can arise in environments as disparate as Antarctic lakes, deep-sea vents, and freshwater-lake sinkholes, the scientists say.
Bopaiah A. Biddanda of Grand Valley State University, in Muskegon, Mich. one of the leaders of the study of these odd environments said, "it might also lead to the discovery of novel organisms and previously unknown biochemical processes, furthering our exploration of life on Earth."
Maybe not huge sea monsters, but prehistotic microbe monster colonies spewing hydrogen sulphide are lurking in the depths of Lake Huron.
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