Global warming effect sea levels and weather conditions, but there is an additional threat that few people are aware of-melting glaciers will release ancient microbes and bacteria that have not roamed the earth for 20 million years, since before human beings were even on the planet. Our immune systems will not be prepared for the onslaught.

Buried under thousands of feet of ice in the Antarctic are a series of fresh water lakes that could possibly hold a thriving community of microbes. Researchers have located at least 76 lakes there, including one that is about 5,400 square miles, the size of Lake Ontario, and another, Lake Vostok, that is 3,000 feet deep.

“This is one of the last unexplored frontiers of our planet,” says John C. Priscu of Montana State University. Priscu says the waters of these lakes are thought to contain a community of microbes that got there over a period of a half million years, slowly carried from the surface to the ice below.

Ice samples that have been extracted from drill holes punched two miles down into the glaciers have been found to contain microbes living in a dormant, frozen state. They can survive that way for thousands of years.

Scientists are planning to drill all the way down to Lake Vostok and take samples. They will use a sterile drilling technique to prevent contaminating the lake with microbes from the surface.

Priscu says that this lake may resemble lakes that are thought to exist under the surface of Mars and on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, where scientists hope to drill some day, using the same technique.

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