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A team of British scientists has discovered microbial life dwelling in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth: the bottom of a lake trapped under miles of glacial ice in Antarctica.

Sampling such a setting has been possible only quite recently as ice sheets melt and recede at unprecedented rates due to increasing polar temperatures. Even so, some recent attempts have met with difficulties. A different British expedition at Lake Ellsworth in December 2012 suffered equipment failures and had to be cancelled.

However, the current British attempt has had much better fortune. This expedition is led by David Pearce of the University of Northumbria and consists of researchers from that institution, the University of Edinburgh, and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Pearce and colleagues used clean coring techniques to drill into sediments at the bottom of Lake Hodgson. This subglacial lake is on the Antarctic Peninsula and was entombed under more than 400 meters of ice at the end of the last Ice Age, but now has only a thin three to four-meter crust of ice. The lake is 93 meters deep and about 1.5 kilometers long by 1.5 kilometers wide.

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