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Desert Diary


Those of us old enough to remember World War II know that each Nazi-occupied country had an underground—a group of people working in concealment to overthrow the conquerors. Undoubtedly, the Chihuahuan Desert also supports an underground, though hopefully not aimed at overthrowing we dwellers of the desert.

In recent years, our concept of the limits of life have changed considerably. Life living under high temperature and pressure around undersea, volcanic vents, for example. Or, pertinent to our subject today, microscopic organisms living deep within the rocks of the earth.

Life living at depth in rocks? Oh, come on, now!—which is exactly the reaction of most scientists up until the late 1980s, when special precautions to rule out contamination were taken while drilling near the Savannah River nuclear materials processing facility in South Carolina. Bacteria were recovered from depths down to 1640 feet, and later studies have recovered life from as deep as 2 miles.

So, as we trod on our desert's surface, let's be aware of our underground—millions upon millions of creatures hidden under our feet.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.