New Study Discovers Life Forms Underneath Antarctic Ice Shelves

New Study Discovers Life Forms Underneath Antarctic Ice Shelves

Life Underneath The Antarctic

Recent studies in the “Frontiers in Marine Science” journal published on 15 Feb. 2021 have shown that there‘s more life underneath Antartic’s ice shelves. 

While conducting an investigative survey, researchers went as far as 900 m through the ice located in Ronne Ice Shelf, south east of Weddell Sea.  At 260 km far away from the ocean, under -2.2 °C temperature and total darkness, only a handful of animals have ever been observed under these conditions. But more importantly, this recent discovery will be the first finding to reveal that stationary animals (such as sponges and many unknown species on the sea fl0or boulder) exist. 

According to Dr. Griffiths of Britain’s Antarctic Survey, the discovery represents a fortunate accident that gears ideas in an unprecedented direction and proves that Antarctica’s marine life is special and incredibly adapted to the frozen world.

Dr. Griffiths adds that the discovery opens us to more questions than answers. Questions such as how they got there, the length of years they’ve been existing there, what they’ve been eating, how more marine life is attached to the boulders, whether they are the same species outside ice shelves or are these new ones, and the fate of the marine life in a case where the ice shelves collapsed.

A floating ice shelf ranks among the Southern Ocean’s top unexplored habitations. These shelves typically cover over 1.5m km2 of Antarctica’s continental shelf. However, an area as wide as tennis courts was once studied via eight initial boreholes.

Existing theories regarding the possible life that can survive under an ice shelf suggest that marine life generally reduces in number as they move away from open sunlight and water. In the past, studies found certain mobile predators and scavengers like worms, krill or jellyfish in this habitat. However, filter feeding life forms were expected to be part of the first organisms to disappear from below the ice.

It was therefore surprising when the group of geologists hit rocks, and not mud, at the ocean’s bottom. Even more surprising was the video footage showing the large boulder covered by strange creatures.

This discovery marks the first ever finding of a community of hard substrates, in this case a boulder, far beneath an ice shelf. The discovery is a departure from existing theories of the life forms that can survive there.

Considering the region’s water currents, researchers say the community stretches about 1500 kilometres upstream from its closest photosynthesis source.

Also, other organisms derive nutrients from chemicals seeping from methane or glacial melts, but research teams need tools for collecting samples of organisms to investigate and understand them more.

As Griffiths said, all hands must be on deck in getting up close with the animal’s environment, which is 900m deep into the ice and 260 km far away from research ships. He calls upon his fellow pillar scientists to find innovative means of studying the organisms and answering all the questions he previously raised.

He concludes that climate change is fast-tracking the collapse of ice shelves, so the studying and protecting the organisms should be undertaken as soon as possible.

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