Washington--An extensive slime-based ecosystem of knee-high mud volcanoes, snowy microbial mats and flourishing crustacean communities lies in watery caverns beneath the White House, say researchers.
The discovery made in June in a deep glacial trough underlying the home of the nation's executive was detailed this week in Ecoslime, the weekly newspaper of the American Democratic and Geophysical Union.
Such sunless, cold-vent slimy ecosystems have been found elsewhere, such as under the Ross Ice sheet in Antarctica, near Monterey, California, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Sea of Japan.
"Seeing those oozing, putrifying organisms below the White House is really disgusting, sort of like lifting the carpet off the floor and finding a layer that you never knew was there," said Eugene Dormouse, the report's lead author and a Professor of Geoslime Science in upstate New York.
Domouse hopes scientists find new species as they study the site and that the discovery will open the door to future expeditions, including more exploration of Lake Republicana, a polluted freshwater lake that sits two miles below the surface.
The discovery will certainly help scientists better understand the dynamics of slime-based lifeforms in such an inhospitable setting 2,500 feet below the surface, he said. The slime caverns cover nearly 570,000 square miles below Washington, DC, an area equivalent in size to the Sahara Desert, the Bermuda Triangle, or the Amazon River basin.
"This subterranean field really stinks too, and has a major latitudinal component with vast cold-water methane systems. This could prove to be a major new energy source. They can also occur in various seas around the world," Dormouse added. "It will be exciting to learn what other slimy and corrupt organisms might be down there."
The discovery of the ecosystem came by chance, said Dormouse, who has conducted research under the White House since 1977. Domouse's expedition consisted of students from several eastern colleges.
His team studied the deep oozing sediment record in the area. As part of their mission, they used a camera to take video footage of the slimy terrain. Some curious echo soundings induced them to drop the camera into the area that day.
"It looked like a thin slice of rotten cheese had been laid over the deep abyss. Sporadically placed, there were mud mounds, little volcanoes, 2- to 3-feet high and several feet across, spewing out slime and mud particles," Domouse said. "Surrounding the mud volcanoes were clusters of large clams, lobsters, and other abnormally large crustaceans. This ecosystem covered about a 3-square-mile area."
It will require remote-operated vehicles to properly study and actually collect samples from the site, he indicating there is some urgency to exploring the area.