Academic journal article Science and Children

Exotic Sinkholes

Academic journal article Science and Children

Exotic Sinkholes

Article excerpt

Researchers are exploring extreme conditions for life in a place not known for extremes.

As little as 20 m (66 feet) below the surface of Lake Huron, the third largest of North America's Great Lakes, peculiar geological formations--sinkholes made by water dissolving parts of an ancient underlying seabed--harbor bizarre ecosystems where the fish typical of the huge freshwater lake are rarely to be seen. Instead, brilliant purple mats of cyanobacteria--cousins of microbes found at the bottoms of permanently ice-covered lakes in Antarctica--and pallid, floating ponytails of other microbial life thrive in the dense, salty water that's hostile to most familiar, larger forms of life because it lacks oxygen.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Groundwater from beneath Lake Huron is dissolving minerals from the defunct seabed and carrying them into the lake to form these exotic, extreme environments, says Bopaiah A. Biddanda of Grand Valley State University, in Muskegon, Michigan, one of the leaders of a scientific team studying the sinkhole ecosystems. Those ecosystems are in a class not only with Antarctic lakes, but also with deep-sea, hydrothermal vents and cold seeps.

"You have this pristine freshwater lake that has what amounts to materials from 400 million years ago--being pushed out into the lake," says team coleader Steven A. …

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