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Collaborative Research: Geochemistry and Microbiology of the Extreme Aquatic Environment in Lake Vida, East Antarctica

Lake Vida is the largest lake of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, with an approximately 20 m ice cover overlaying a brine of unknown depth with at least 7 times seawater salinity and temperatures below -10 degrees C year-round. Samples of brine collected from ice above the main water body contain 1) the highest nitrous oxide levels of any natural water body on Earth, 2) unusual geochemistry including anomalously high ammonia and iron concentrations, 3) high microbial counts with an unusual proportion (99%) of ultramicrobacteria. The microbial community is unique even compared to other Dry Valley Lakes. The research proposes to enter, for the first time the main brine body below the thick ice of Lake Vida and perform in situ measurements, collect samples of the brine column, and collect sediment cores from the lake bottom for detailed geochemical and microbiological analyses. The results will allow the characterization of present and past life in the lake, assessment of modern and past sedimentary processes, and determination of the lake's history. The research will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team that will uncover the biogeochemical processes associated with a non-photosynthetic microbial community isolated for a significant period of time. This research will address diversity, adaptive mechanisms and evolutionary processes in the context of the physical evolution of the environment of Lake Vida. Results will be widely disseminated through publications, presentations at national and international meetings, through the Subglacial Antarctic Lake Exploration (SALE) web site and the McMurdo LTER web site. The research will support three graduate students and three undergraduate research assistants. The results will be incorporated into a new undergraduate biogeosciences course at the University of Illinois at Chicago which has an extremely diverse student body, dominated by minorities.

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