Breaking all the rules of survival, this immobile life was discovered on a boulder almost 600 km (370 miles approx.) away from sunlight, where they did not expect to find life.
Humans have taken over the land from almost all parts of the world. Except for Antarctica because it is uninhabitable as we know it. Scientists, however, have accidentally discovered life on the seafloor underneath Antarctica. It was previously assumed that this would be an uninhabited wasteland. This changes the way we have thought about how organisms manage to survive in extreme cold climatic conditions. According to the Daily Mail, researchers have managed to find evidence of the first life forms in the form of stationary animals, living in the pitch-black habitat of the unexplored marine frontier where the water is -2.2°C.
‘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
The exploration was led by James Smith and Paul Anker of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). For the purpose of the research, they drilled a hole through the 900-meter-thick Filchner-Ronne ice shelf and dropped a camera to go into the ocean underneath it. They were on the lookout for mud on the seabed but stumbled upon something much more interesting. The camera caught a boulder that was ringed by animals. These animals were immobile life, like sea sponges that included barnacles. This is the first time that creatures like this have been found beneath an Antarctic ice sheet.
Discovery of life after drilling through 900m of Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in #Antarctica.— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
Published today @FrontMarineSci - https://t.co/atdkiv1GrA @griffiths_huw @shelfyice @hotwateronice @wavygk @GeoscienceAus @morroghmax @post_alix @nuigalway @UCR_EP_Sci @NERCscience pic.twitter.com/L8P9tt2DbZ
"The area underneath these ice shelves is probably one of the least-known habitats on Earth," Huw Griffiths, one of the scientists who made the discovery, said in a Twitter video. "We didn't think that these kinds of animals, like sponges, would be found there." These creatures are breaking all the rules of survival here. Griffiths believes that the animals are probably filter feeders and have been surviving on nutrients carried in the freezing water. “There’s all sorts of reasons they shouldn’t be there,” he said. He told New Scientist about how far away from nutrient sources they are but have still managed to thrive.
Accidental discovery of extreme life! Far underneath the ice shelves of the #Antarctic, there’s more life than expected: https://t.co/atdkiv1GrA— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
BAS marine biologist Dr Huw Griffiths @griffiths_huw explains... pic.twitter.com/Z6OUw4oQNs
The boulder they found the organisms under is located 260 kilometers from the open water of the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf, which is where photosynthetic organisms can survive. Their food is most likely being carried by ocean currents from far off, the nearest up-current source of sunlight appears to be 600 kilometers away. “We’ve discovered this isn’t some graveyard where a few things cling on, it’s more complicated than we thought,” Griffiths stated. But it is still unclear if these animals are new to science. But the climate change and the melting ice sheets could cause difficulty in their survival if they are unable to respond to rapid changes around them.
In the study that was published by the team in Frontiers of Science, it stated, "This new evidence requires us to rethink our ideas with regard to the diversity of community types found under ice shelves, the key factors which control their distribution, and their vulnerability to environmental change and ice-shelf collapse." The earlier belief that the sub-ice shelf biogeography would collapse as they went further away from the ice shelf front is being challenged. "The abundance of organisms on the boulder is higher than would be expected so far from a source of primary production and is comparable with large drop stones in the seasonal sea ice regimes of the fjords of the West Antarctic Peninsula or the Filchner Trough, 450 km north of the ice shelf front," the study stated. “It’s slightly bonkers,” Griffiths told The Guardian. “Never in a million years would we have thought about looking for this kind of life, because we didn’t think it would be there.” Smith in a statement by BAS said, “We were expecting to retrieve a sediment core from under the ice shelf, so it came as a bit of a surprise when we hit the boulder and saw from the video footage that there were animals living on it.”
So this story of the unexpected finding of filter feeding animals (including sponges) attached to a boulder under an #Antarctic ice shelf is proving popular today! These kinds of happy accidents can make science very exciting! Download the paper here:https://t.co/8BXh4rXo1C pic.twitter.com/xwmZn3uhBY— Huw Griffiths (@griffiths_huw) February 15, 2021