Variations in methane concentration in ice cores, such as the 3,053-meter-long (10,016-foot-long) core obtained by the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2, have been used to gauge past climate. In that core, however, some segments within about 100 meters, or 300 feet, of the bottom registered levels of methane as much as 10 times higher than would be expected from trends over the past 110,000 years.
Price and his colleagues showed in their paper that these anomalous peaks can be explained by the presence in the ice of methanogens. Methanogens are common on Earth in places devoid of oxygen, such as in the rumens of cows, and could easily have been scraped up by ice flowing over the swampy subglacial soil and incorporated into some of the bottom layers of ice.
Price and his colleagues found these methanogens in the same foot-thick segments of the core where the excess methane was measured in otherwise clear ice at depths 17, 35 and 100 meters (56, 115 and 328 feet) above bedrock. They calculated that the measured amount of Archaea, frozen and barely active, could have produced the observed amount of excess methane in the ice.
"We found methanogens at precisely those depths where excess methane had been found, and nowhere else," Price said. "I think everyone would agree that this is a smoking gun."
Biologists at Pennsylvania State University had earlier analyzed ice several meters above bedrock that was dark gray in appearance because of its high silt content, and identified dozens of types of both aerobic (oxygen-loving) and anaerobic (oxygen-phobic) microbes. They estimated that 80 percent of the microbes were still alive.
Though methane has been detected in Mars' atmosphere, ultraviolet light from the sun would have broken down the amount observed in about 300 years if some process was not replenishing the methane, Price noted. While interaction of carbon-bearing fluid with basaltic rock might be r
Source:University of California - Berkeley