Dark energy in the deep, cold ecosystem of Subglacial Lake Whillans, West Antarctica Project uri icon

DCO ID 11121/3675-7712-7513-1407-CC


  • Research over the past few decades has substantially increased our appreciation of the deep biosphere as a major reservoir of cellular carbon and biodiversity. Antarctic subglacial aquatic environments are hypothesized to contain a significant pool of biomass and biogeochemically relevant gases such as methane; however, only recently have these environments been accessible for study. Subglacial aqueous habitats harbor microbial ecosystems that are hydraulically linked to the oceans and have the potential to affect marine biological and chemical systems. In spite of their biogeochemical importance, the microbial structure and function in subglacial aquatic environments remains relatively understudied. We are currently characterizing a microbial ecosystem in Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW), a lake that exists beneath ~800 m of ice in West Antarctic. Our molecular and biogeochemical data indicate that SLW is a chemosynthetically driven ecosystem inhabited by a diverse assemblage of bacteria and archaea. We propose to use metagenomic data to investigate the structure and functional potential of the microbial communities in the upper 40 cm of SLW sediments. In particular, we aim to focus our analysis on lineages and pathways responsible for chemolithoautotrophic carbon fixation and methane oxidation. These data will provide an unprecedented understanding of the ways in which microorganisms harvest “dark energy” and transform carbon in the deep, cold biosphere.

date/time interval

  • November 2014 - November 2016