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discovered_02_2015 - Life in a mountain

WWW.HZDR.DE 06 07 TITLE // THE HZDR RESEARCH MAGAZINE The wide tunnel twists in an enormous spiral reaching 3,600 meters down into the depths on an island near the skerry island coastal region in southeastern Sweden. As you head into the deep depths, you won't run into any weekend vacationers along the way, but will see scientists and engineers at work. After all, this tunnel isn't a public thoroughfare, but rather gives access to underground lab Äspö, where researchers investigate the processes that might take place in a repository for highly radioactive waste 500 meters below Earth's surface. Microbiologists have been a part of the team of geologists, physicists, chemists, and hydrologists for quite some time now. At these depths there are also unexplored life forms that haven't been pulled to the surface, but are at home down here. "Even 500 meters down, our Swedish colleagues found microorganisms on the granite walls of the rocky shaft back in the 1990s," recalls Evelyn Krawczyk-Bärsch of the HZDR Institute of Resource Ecology. These organisms clearly grow and thrive quite well in the depths: "If we scrape some biomass off of the walls of the chasm in order to study it in our Dresden lab, the layer will grow back in the same place in just a few weeks," the researcher explains. Microorganisms in clay and salt The activity of underground life is not limited to granite. Henry Moll of the HZDR has also found microorganisms in the clay rock layer in which the Swiss repository may eventually be built. And researchers have even discovered microorganisms in the salt deposits near Carlsbad in New Mexico, which is evaluated as a repository. "These are often archaea that can not only cope with high salt concentrations, but at the same _TEXT . Roland Knauer LIFE IN A MOUNTAIN // There is a wealth of microorganisms in the subsurface. They also play a role in repositories. MICROCOSMOS: Microorganisms exist underground that are very good at protecting themselves against radioactive radiation. Photo: AVANGA