Found in an intermittent stream draining from the glacier, the evidence includes traces of dissolved organic material and high levels of nitrates, said Mark Williams, a scientist at Colorado University (CU)-Boulder. The high nitrate levels are believed to be a result of microbes metabolizing nitrogen within the glacier, said CU-Boulder graduate student Meredith Knauf.
Knauf will give a presentation on Dec. 13 about the discovery, at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held Dec. 13 to Dec. 17 in San Francisco, Calif.
Rock glaciers are large masses of rock debris interspersed with ice in the high mountains of temperate areas. Moving at speeds of just inches or a few feet a year, rock glaciers require an extremely cold environment, large amounts of rock debris and enough of a slope to allow them to slide.
Williams said the microbial "signature" discovered by the team in the rock glacier, located in the Green Lakes Valley watershed 30 miles west of Boulder, Colo., is similar to that found recently in semi-frozen lakes in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The unexpected discovery of microbes in that hostile Antarctica region has enthused scientists hunting for life in inhospitable environments, he said.
The Green Lakes Valley watershed is part of the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Niwot Ridge is the only one of NSF's 26 LTER sites worldwide that is located in a sub-alpine and alpine environment.
"The finding that similar microbes occupy similar habitats in Colorado and Antarctica should spur other discoveries elsewhere in these environments," said Henry Gholz, director of NSF's LTER program. "The challenge now is to explain the role