Seafloor life under a chunk of ice in Antarctica?

Environment Contributor
Seafloor life
Photo : Dreamstime

Antarctica is the continent that has 98% ice coverage. It is supposed to be created around 20 million years ago when it got separated from the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland. Due to its harsh environment, lack of easily accessible resources, and isolation, Antarctica has not been fully explored. Mainly scientists or researchers visit Antarctica for various studies. In such a study, a team of scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research found incredible seafloor life thriving under 150 meter cover of ice.

How was this seafloor life in Antarctica uncovered?

The research was carried out on a gigantic ice chunk that broke off from the Burnt Ice Shelf in Antarctica. This ice shelf borders the Antarctic coast of Coats Land between two glaciers. In 2012, large cracks or chasms in the ice shelf started expanding. Observing this, scientists predicted the Burnt Ice Shelf to break off within the next few years. Finally, on 26th February this year, a 490 square mile huge iceberg (named A-74) broke away from the north-facing shelf. The team of researchers aboard the German Polarstern icebreaker managed to slip into the gap and conducted the study. This study uncovered a seafloor life environment hidden under the ice for the last 50 years.

What did we get to know from this discovery?

The team photographed and published the world’s very first images of a subterranean world teeming with life under the ice shelf. The seafloor cameras photographed alien-looking molluscs, sponges, and anemones. One of the photos contains a 10 cm sea anemone attached to a rock on the seafloor. The team gave a statement, “This study uncovers an amazing level of biodiversity in a region that was deep covered by ice and was not exposed for decades.”

Anemones used to survive by eating shrimp and small fish. In another photo, a brittlestar starfish’s twisty tendrils could be seen to catch prey. Most of these animals are filter-feeders but it is unclear if they feed on the remains of algae or organic particles carried on the ice. The team also collected samples of sediment from the seafloor to learn more about the ecosystem there. They are hoping to use this knowledge to have insight into how Antarctica is responding to climate change or global warming.

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