Scientists Discover Animals Living In -2°C ‘Wasteland’ Under Antarctica
Researchers conducting an exploratory survey in Antarctica accidentally discovered species living in -2°C temperatures beneath an ice shelf.
The unexpected find was made when biogeographer Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey was working with colleagues at the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, situated on the south eastern Weddell Sea.
Ice shelves constitute more than 1.5 million square kilometres of the Antarctic continental shelf, and scientists typically conduct research on the area by boring holes into the ice.
Previous surveys have revealed small mobile creatures such as fish, jellies, worms and crustaceans living under the ice, however in such a dark, freezing space filter feeders such as sponges were highly unexpected.
Griffiths and the team working in the area were naturally surprised, then, when they found one sponge on a stalk, 15 sponges without stalks, and 22 unidentified stalked organisms that could be sponges, ascidians, hydroids, barnacles, cnidaria, or polychaetes, living at temperatures of -2.2°C, Science Alert reports.
The study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, explains the creatures were found under 890 metres of ice, at a seafloor depth of 1,233 metres.
Griffiths described the discovery as a ‘fortunate accident’, explaining the find ‘pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and amazingly adapted to a frozen world.’
Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there?
What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?
The sun is vital for most life on Earth as it allows for photosynthesis, however the boulder investigated by the researchers is estimated to be between 625 and 1,500 kilometres from the nearest region of photosynthesis.
It is likely the newfound creatures have been relying on some form of chemosynthetic food chain, which involves bacteria relying on chemosynthesis of gases such as hydrogen or methane to make sugars.
Determining the source of life would require a much more detailed study of the creatures and their habitat, though as they are located under 900 metres of ice, Griffiths noted that the scientists will have to find ‘new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have.’
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