TODAY |

Kiwi scientists brave extremes by drilling beneath surface of Antarctica volcano

A group of New Zealand scientists is taking its research to new extremes by drilling into the top of an active volcano in Antarctica in search of rare and tiny bacteria.

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The microbiologists have drilled down into the active volcano to conduct their research. Source: 1 NEWS

The group of researchers has been camping on top of Mt Erebus to study lifeforms buried beneath the surface.

Previously, scientists have just scraped the surface of Erebus, around 12 centimetres. But this season they've gone further than ever before, drilling down one and a half metres.

And, while microbiologists have taken samples of the creatures before, they haven't been able to grow them successfully in the lab.

Professor Ian Macdonald of Waikato University says if they can isolate and grow those organisms in culture, then they can understand what those organisms are doing to gain energy.

"What we know is on Mt Erebus, there are very novel organisms that we don't find anywhere else on the planet," said Mr Macdonald.

“The deeper you go, the more novel. So the idea is that by going deeper still, we are focusing on just those novel organisms and we also get an environment that's more stable.”

This trip is the first of a four-year research programme, but it almost ended before it began with the team having to brave extreme weather conditions, including 120 kilometre mountaintop winds.

“We spent over a week sitting thinking about what we were going to do,” said Mr Macdonald.

The research efforts aim to gain a greater understanding of the kind of conditions that can support life on earth, but also in outer space.