A scientific expedition has discovered new species beneath the Antarctic ice shelves, suggesting that one of the largest marine habitats to be explored will be home to more life than expected, according to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The expedition by researchers from the British Antarctic Exploration Agency accidentally made it possible to identify stationary animals on rocks on the sea floor, similar to sponges and potentially unknown species.
The discovery, featured in a scientific article published this Monday in Frontiers magazine in Marine Science, is “one of those lucky accidents that steer ideas from a different perspective and show that marine life is special in Antarctica and is incredibly adapted to an extreme environment ”. , Says Huw Griffiths, biogeographer and principal researcher at BAS.
The scientists drilled 900 meters on the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the southeast of the Weddell Sea, about 260 km from the open ocean and in complete darkness, where diminished wildlife had already been observed.
While drilling through the ice to collect sediment samples, the researchers stumbled upon a rock instead of mud on the sea floor and, through video images, found a “large rock covered by strange creatures”.
According to the study now published, the researchers’ discovery raises more questions than the answers it offers about this type of marine life under extreme conditions.
Floating ice platforms are the largest undeveloped habitat in the Southern Ocean. On more than 1.5 million square kilometers of the Antarctic continental shelf, where only a total area similar to the size of a tennis court through eight previous holes has been examined.
Taking into account the currents in the region, the researchers estimate that the newly discovered community of organisms could be around 1,500 kilometers from the nearest source of photosynthesis.
“To answer the new questions, we need to find a way to get closer to these animals and their environment – and that’s 900 meters deep, under the ice and 260 km from the ships on which our laboratories are located,” said he Huw Griffiths.