Mysterious lifeforms have been discovered in one of the most inhabitable places on our planet. Deep below the Antarctic ice shelf is very dark with subzero temperatures but some species are surprisingly thriving down there.
Located on a seafloor boulder were several species. In fact, this is the first time ever that stationary creatures attached to one specific location have been found underneath the ice of Antarctica.
Huw Griffiths, who is a biogeographer at the British Antarctic Survey and an author of the study, explained this further, “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.”
Since it is so difficult to study what’s underneath Antarctica’s ice shelves, scientists are only able to make holes in the ice and lower equipment into the depths of the water. Based on evidence gathered from eight of their borehole surveys, they do know that there is some life beneath the ice, such as jellies, fish, crustaceans, and worms. But the fact that they found sponges was incredibly surprising.
They found the sponges underneath 890 meters of ice (2,920 feet) on the seafloor which was 1,233 meters down (4,045 feet). Located on the seafloor boulder was one sponge on a stalk while 15 others were without them. Furthermore, they discovered 22 organisms that have yet to be identified but could possibly be sponges, hydroids, ascidians, cnidaria, barnacles, or polychaetes. (Pictures can be seen here.)
Griffiths noted that there are still many unanswered questions like how they got there; how long have they been there; what do they eat; how many boulders have this type of life attached to them; are they new species and what would happen to them if the ice shelves ended up collapsing?
Since the majority of life on our planet needs sun to survive, it’s amazing to think that these creatures reside in complete darkness and are still able to live. Chemosynthesis is when organisms use the energy from reactions created by inorganic chemicals when there isn’t any sunlight around. Thermal vents found in the ocean release volcanic chemicals and heat, and bacteria uses chemosynthesis to make sugar for their food chain.
Organisms that live beneath glaciers chemosynthesise hydrogen and some chemosynthetic ecosystems depend on methane. Interestingly, a methane leak has been discovered in the waters of Antarctica.
With that being said, the living creatures underneath Antarctica’s ice shelves probably depend on a chemosynthetic food chain but much more research needs to be conducted in order to know for sure. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly interesting to know that several different species can survive beneath the freezing cold ice shelves of Antarctica.
The study was published in Frontiers in Marine Science where it can be read in full.