Strange form of life: Strange form of life discovered underneath the Antarctic ice shelves! A new study, led by Biogeographer Dr Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey, carried out an exploratory survey in the south eastern Weddell Sea’s Filchner-Ronne ice shelf, and the team drilled through a whopping 900 metres of ice. The location was about 260 km away from the open ocean, and had a temperature of -2.2 degrees Celsius. Given the complete darkness in this area, the researchers were not expecting animals to be inhabiting this area, due to very few having been observed in such extreme conditions in the past. However, the study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science journal and accessed by Financial Express Online, soon became the first one to discover that stationary animals similar to sponges exist in the seafloor at the location. These animals were attached to a boulder.
Dr Griffiths said that the discovery was a fortunate incident and it pushed the team’s ideas in a different direction, demonstrating that the life inhabiting the Antarctic was incredible and had adapted to living in frozen conditions.
He also, however, said that the discovery made by his team raised a lot of new questions like how this species got to that location, the duration of their existence there, and whether these species were the same as seen outside the ice shelf or new ones. He also said that it was unknown what would happen to these creatures if the ice shelf were to collapse.
In the Southern Ocean, the floating ice shelves are the greatest unexplored habitat, even as they cover over 1.5m square km of the Antarctic continental shelf. However, only an area of about a tennis court has been explored till now.
As of now, the theories have suggested that all life became less abundant as one moved further away from sunlight and open ocean, and only small mobile scavengers like fish, jellyfish, krill, or worms had been observed in such areas. But the team was surprised majorly because filter-feeding organisms, which depend on food supply from above, were expected to disappear further under the ice. The team also expected to find mud, so the boulder was also a surprise.
Since this study was also the first to record the existence of hard substrate deep under an ice shelf, a new expedition to The Antarctic would be needed with tools equipped to take samples and study these new animals as well as their environment.