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Underground: How Deep Can Life Survive?

The infrastructure below our cities and life two miles below the earth’s surface. Exploring the mysteries of the biosphere below the earth’s surface.

This week, The Forum delves into the subterranean world of life underground – from the forgotten tunnels and catacombs of our cities to life found in the stifling sunless world two miles below the Earth’s surface. Might humans one day retreat underground if living above ground becomes too tough? Bridget Kendall with Social Geographer Dr. Bradley L. Garrett, Zoologist Dr. Gaetan Borgonie and Isotope Geochemist Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar.

Photo: Car Quarry image (credit: Bradley L. Garrett)

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41 minutes

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Bradley L. Garrett

Dr. Bradley L. Garrett is a lecturer in Social Geography at the University of Southampton in the UK with a passion for photographing off- limit places and exploring urban underground spaces.  His recent book: Global Undergrounds Exploring Cities Within (co-edited) collects the stories of subterranean sites around the world. With their tunnels, caverns and bunkers they not only sustain the cities above them, but also the lives of people who are increasingly moving into them.  He says that if the 20th century was the age of the skyscraper then the 21st century is probably the age of the tunnel.   

Gaetan Borgonie

Dr. Gaetan Borgonie is a Zoologist  from the Extreme Life Isyensya in Gentbrugge, Belgium.  His work on the Nematode worm lead to the discovery that they are surviving in wet rock fissures almost two miles below the Earth’s surface in South African mines.  He explains how they are able to  survive the intense heat, crushing pressure and minimal oxygen supply and how their  discovery might contribute to our understanding of  the possibility of life surviving deeper underground than we ever thought possible.

Barbara Sherwood Lollar

Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar is an award winning Isotope Geochemist from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto. She has become an expert in measuring the trace isotopes in water that is millions of years old deep below the ground.   This water is capable of sustaining microbial life and has the potential to change our understanding of the origins of life on the planet as well as raising the possibility of the habitability of Mars. 

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