Antarctic Bacteria Could Help Slow Climate Change, Proving Nature Loves Irony
A new discovery of bacteria in Antarctica capable of consuming methane could be a key to helping slow climate change and could offer a preview of life in the solar system.
Nature, apparently, has a really weird sense of humor – and that includes a healthy dose of irony.
A new study conducted in Antarctica has uncovered a new form of bacteria that consumes methane. If it can be harnessed, it could lead to a way to help reverse – or at least slow – some of the damage done from greenhouse gases. The ironic part is that there is a chance that researchers might not have been able to reach the bacteria, which is buried deep under the ice, without the help of climate change.
To be fair, the researchers may have been able to reach the bacteria regardless of the current climate, but climate change has significantly increased the amount of research being done in Antarctica, including the funding – funding that allowed this research team to drill deep within the ice and into a forgotten body of water known as Lake Whillans. The lake has been completed isolated from the world for thousands of years – possibly hundreds of thousands of years – and the water and sediment samples are the first to be retrieved from the area.
While carbon dioxide is a far more common around the world, and is therefore more of a focus in any discussions regarding climate change, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas. It is attributed with warming the planet 86 times as much as CO2.
Deep beneath the ice near the South Pole, researchers discovered a significant reservoir of methane that if released could have a huge impact on the environment, but the bacteria appears to be keeping it in check. If it can be replicated artificially or introduced under controlled circumstances, it could make a huge difference.
There’s also secondary reason that scientists are excited about the discovery. Finding bacteria alive and well in methane gives hope to the idea that there might be life in the solar system on moons that are filled with the gas. Saturn and Jupiter’s icy moons are already the top targets for NASA and others. If there is life on those moons, it might share some similarities to this bacteria.
Using methane oxidation, the early test results show that the bacteria can consume more than 99-percent of the methane they interact with. The bacteria will need to be studied for months still, probably years, but it could be key in the fight against climate change.