Research at Grímsvatn revealed that, despite extreme conditions, the lakes are inhabited by single cell organisms. Whereas most known living organisms convert sunlight to energy, these organisms are believed to thrive off chemicals, much like single cell organisms found in hot springs. Much has been theorized about life under ice and with the Grímsvatn expedition, much of it was proven to be true. The ultimate testing stone of these theories, however, would be an investigation of lake Volstok, which lies underneath kilometers of ice in the Antarctic. This is, however, very difficult to research, since even the slightest disturbance could disrupt the entire eco-system of the lake. This is not the case with Grímsvatn, since Vatnajökull is much more mobile and less stable, so disruptions are very frequent there.
The findings of the expedition give rise to theories that organisms may live under similar circumstances elsewhere in the galaxy, and poses the question of whether Mars may be host to such creatures. We do know that there are polar caps of ice on the red planet, and there just might be water underneath. It is therefore entirely possible that organisms similar to those found in Grímsvatn might inhabit Mars.
A more distant, but just as interesting candidate, is Jupiter’s satellite Europa. Far less is known about the surface and conditions of Europa, but what we do know is that its entire surface is ice. It is believed that underneath the ice there is a thick layer of water that could easily host these organisms.
But while this is all well and good, one must ask (and in fact, this question was posed at the Q&A after Dr. Eidos’ lecture): Do we really need this kind of research? Is this the most necessary knowledge? We know about tiny little things underneath our glaciers that might exist in space, too. So what? Well, Dr. Eidos couldn’t provide concrete answers. There is of course the obvious and endless quest for knowledge, but that was not the answer that I was looking for. What practical use do we have for these organisms? Well, the only answer for that was that there is a slight possibility that they could be used for making laundry detergent.
So while these newfound living things under Vatnajökull might not put Iceland on the pages of astrobiological history, it certainly might do something for the future. Maybe we’ll all look back thirty years from now and bless the day when Grimsvatn gave us the little creatures that make our sheets clean.
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