Biologists presume these to be types of sponges, and there are also indications other animals may be fixed to the boulder, like tube worms, stalked barnacles, or hydroids, which are related to jellyfish.
Cover Image Source: YouTube/New Scientist
The frozen continent of Antarctica appears to have a surprise in store for us, as animal life was accidentally discovered living in the pitch-black seawater underneath almost half a mile of floating Antarctic ice. The previously thought-to-be uninhabited wasteland was recently visited by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. According to NBC, "geologists drilled a small hole inside the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf on the southern edge of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea and sent their camera down to check the seabed mud."
But they inadvertently hit a boulder and were unable to get the sediment samples that were looking for. However, what they did find was colonies of "stationary" animals stuck to the rock. Biologists presumed these to be types of sponges, and there are also indications other animals may be fixed to the boulder, like tube worms, stalked barnacles, or hydroids, which are related to jellyfish. This finding was published in Frontiers in Marine Science. Marine biologist Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey, who is the lead author of the published study said, It was a bit of a disappointment to them – they’d spent weeks getting there and it didn’t work. But for [biologists], it is amazing because no one has ever seen these [organisms] before."
‘Breaking All the Rules: The First Recorded Hard Substrate Sessile Benthic Community Far Beneath an Antarctic Ice Shelf’ - Huw J. Griffiths, Paul Anker, Katrin Linse, Jamie Maxwell, Alexandra L. Post, Craig Stevens, Slawek Tulaczyk & James A. Smith: https://t.co/qoWpSa4ME0 pic.twitter.com/ZXpMkN1iO8— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
Daily Mail reports that scientists bore a hole through the 3,000-foot-thick ice, and dropped the camera into the dark seawater below, where they found this animal life thriving in the -2.2°C water. These yet-to-be-identified species were found to be over 200 miles from the nearest food source. Antarctica is surrounded by more than half a million square miles of ice shelves – the Filchner-Ronne is one of the largest, covering more than 160,000 square miles. Due to massive floating ice shelves, it has been quite the task to study the ocean beneath. This means that the scientists have managed to explore the area the size of a tennis court because of the eight boreholes they have drilled. Additionally, the extreme weather makes it even harder to conduct experiments because accessibility is difficult.
I'm wondering if the life originated there or migrated?— T Randy B (@muggles992) February 16, 2021
"This discovery is one of those fortunate accidents that pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and amazingly adapted to a frozen world," says Griffiths. "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 borehole that the scientists dug measured 160 miles (260km) from the open sea, surprising the researchers. They are currently making several theories on how life is possible despite its distance.
Very cool, sounds like the perfect opportunity to develop an AUV that can slide through the borehole- good practice for Europa as well!— HulloThere #25DaysOfFishmas (@jethroreading32) February 15, 2021
Earlier studies have shown that certain mobile animals like fish and krill in the area. But never before has an organism that stays still and filters the water around it for food ever been found. "The only things you would expect to find … are things that can wander around and find food," he said. "Whereas if you’re stuck to a rock and you’re waiting for food to come to you, then the one bit that comes past this year could go past you."
He added, "To answer our questions we will have to find a way of getting up close with these animals and their environment - and that's under 900 m (3,000 ft) of ice, 260 km (160 miles) away from the ships where our labs are. This means that as polar scientists we are going to have to find new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have."
Well done guys, but it’s not a surprise to me because the our Earth 🌍 is the only planet you can find life. Yes, there is life everywhere on this earth.— Zatara (@zatara_wan) February 15, 2021