For the new study, Christner and colleagues analyzed samples directly retrieved from another subglacial lake, known as Lake Whillans, which lies beneath about a half-mile of ice on the lower portion of the Whillans Ice Stream in West Antarctica.
The lake is part of an extensive and evolving subglacial drainage network, Christner noted in the Nature paper.
Scientists discovered at least 3,931 microbial species or groups of species in the lake waters, many of which use inorganic compounds as an energy source.
With little surface melt in the area, it is unlikely that water has made its way through the half-mile of ice to reach the lake. Instead, scientists believe the water comes from geothermal heating at the base of the lake and through frictional melting during ice flows.
Any microbes in the water, therefore, most likely survive on energy and nutrients from melting ice, crushed rock, sediment beneath the ice and recycling of materials from dead micro-organisms, glaciologist Martyn Tranter, with the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, wrote in a related paper in Nature.