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Constanta, July 24 /Agerpres/ - For many years kept under wraps, the Movile Cave, the discovery by accident of Romanian specialists that were surveying the area in 1986 for the location of a power plant near the Black Sea in Mangalia, came to be considered one of the greatest discoveries of the century that was to completely revolutionise the theories about the origin of life on Earth.
The epochal discovery of scientist Cristian Lascu was certified ten years later by NASA scientists, who brought to Mangalia a highly sophisticated mobile laboratory and a team of scholars who launched a research project in collaboration with Romanian counterparts. The Movile Cave near Mangalia was to amaze the whole scientific world with the discovery of life in a unique chemoautotrophic ecosystem totally isolated from the terrestrial atmosphere and perpetuated in an underground world hostile to humans, animals or plants on the outside. And this was because for the first time life was discovered in the most hidden corners of the earth the underground life did not depend on the outside world. Larry Lemke of NASA, working on a research mission to probe for life on Mars, has likened the living conditions in the Movile Cave to Mars and put forth a supposition that life forms might have existed on the planet some 3.5 billion years ago, when Mars was warmer. The Movile Cave rekindled hope that some form of early life might be found in the underground of the Red Planet, where sources of hot liquid water exist.
The discovery of Movile Cave has also inspired American screenwriters, who used the place for the shooting of 'The Cave' (2005) directed by Bruce Hunt.
But at Movile, biologists of the National Institute of Speleology found a closed full circle, a stable ecosystem consisting of life forms and fungi that is totally isolated and independent from the outside, only 20 meters deep in the Earth, which works on chemosynthesis and which had been completely sealed off from the outside world for about 5.5 million years. This made ??one of the scientists who discovered and studied the flora and fauna there to conclude that, if a nuclear war wept out life on Earth, that ecosystem would be a survivor. Scientific exploration of the Movile Cave, says Cristian Lascu began only in 1990, during which time the cave was isolated. 'As many as 35 entirely new species in all were found living in an environment very rich in hydrogen sulphide, with an atmosphere very poor in oxygen but rich in carbon dioxide and methane, somehow comparable to the volcanic pits on Mars, as NASA scientists subsequently pointed out,' says Lascu.
The bio-speleological and geological exploratory research works were conducted by Cristian Lascu, Stefan Radu Sarbu and Radu Popa, all members of the GESS group for underwater and speleological explorations. On the surface of the sulphurous water in the cave, the presence of a white, creamy substance, a few millimetres thick, was noticed, a nutritional organic substance found in various organisms, especially small snails and worms.
The scientific potential of the Movile Cave is not exhausted, Lascu tells Agerpres, as observations continue and exploring is done every year, but the integrity of the habitat is endangered every day, including by the 'searchers' of scrap metal that constantly threaten the huge metal door that closes off access to the surface. 'There is a constant danger that local authorities must take into account and that is just their job. That danger is the expansion of the urbanisation of Mangalia encroaching on the area where the cave is located, a place defined as a strictly protected scientific reserve. Well, all dwellings in the newly built district have to be connected to the sewerage system, because any clandestine septic tank can generate underground infiltrations that would reach the ground water in the special environment of the Movile Cave, which apparently keeps the secret of the origin of life. Human presence in this place seriously threatens the existence of the ecosystem as the simple respiratory process can cause irreversible imbalances by modifying the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cave. In order to protect the habitat and the ecosystem, work inside the cave is limited to two hours, while access is allowed twice a month at most for specialists and limited to a maximum of three people by raid. In addition, clean footwear and costumes have to be worn to avoid contamination,' says Lascu.
Romanian scientists say that there was no external evidence of an outside origin of the cave water and that the water most likely come from an underground reservoir that had apparently been preserved here for over 2,500 years. Two air pockets were identified in the cave. In the first, known invertebrate species were detected, while in the second a milky layer of organic materials was discovered. The air was unbreathable as it was poisoned by hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide , both noxious gases and the oxygen level was very low. The absence of sunlight leads to the elimination of the possibility to obtain food through photosynthesis and the life forms here have adapted themselves to the existing environmental conditions using chemical energy resulting from the oxidation of the hydrogen sulphide. Microorganisms use chemosynthesis (or chemosynthesis) to procure food. The process led to the formation of the milky film full of microorganisms, which has been food for other animals in the cave and the last link in the food chain. The underground living life forms are pale, and what differentiates them completely from their outside relatives is their total lack of vision and their gigantic antennas they use to move around in the dark. 'Subsequent expeditions have identified three more cavernous areas, somehow similar in morphology to the Movile Cave, fed by life-hosting sulphurous waters and thermal springs, in Italy - the Apennines Mountains, in Greece and the Sea of Galilee in Israel, where there are vibrant underground oases teeming with life forms akin to the fauna of the Movile Cave, but the Movile Cave has remained absolutely unique,' Lascu points out.
Geologically speaking, the cave is located in the Moesian Platform and dates back to the Quaternary. With a length of 300 metres and a total area of just 12,000 square meters, the cave is relatively small, with narrow passages that form a maze of low 1-2 m galleries, round in shape, carved in oolitic limestone. It is believed that the population of the cave became isolated 5.5 million years ago, when the level of the Black Sea plummeted, at a time when the closest ancestors of today's humans were monkeys in southern Africa. AGERPRES
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