The photo above comes to us from a remote part of the Andes, at the base of the active volcano Socompa. Lake Socompa is situated here and its whitish stomatolites (a type of layered sediment deposit created by microorganisms) are home to an unexpected diversity of bacterial life.
In research published this week in PLOS ONE, scientists from Argentina and Germany travelled to this remote location, 3570 meters above sea level, to study the lake’s stomatolites and the harsh environment in which they are formed. Stomatolites were found only on the southern shore, where a hydrothermal spring feeds acidic water into the lake. This region of the Andes mountain range receives very little annual rainfall and, due to its high elevation, experiences high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Yet, rather than being inhospitable to life, scientists found that the region’s extreme environmental conditions actually helped to foster “rich, diverse and active ecosystems” within the lake’s stomatolites. According to the research, the Lake Socompa site is the highest altitude, thus far, where stomatolites are found to form.
Citation: Farías ME, Rascovan N, Toneatti DM, Albarracín VH, Flores MR, et al. (2013) The Discovery of Stromatolites Developing at 3570 m above Sea Level in a High-Altitude Volcanic Lake Socompa, Argentinean Andes. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053497