According to recent research published in the journal Current Biology this week, there is more marine life farther under the Antarctic sea ices than previously thought.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Despite covering more than 1.6 million km2, sea ice is one of the least known habitats in the world. On camera, life can be spotted in these perpetually dark, cold and calm settings, but it is rarely captured.
In 2018, a team of researchers from the German Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, drilled two holes through more than 200 meters of the Ekström Ice Shelf near Neumayer Station III in the southeastern Weddell Sea, using hot water. . The climate is harsh and very cold (minus 2.2 degrees centigrade).
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Life at the bottom of the sea
the seabed life discoveries were extraordinary and quite unexpected. The richness of the objects they found was extraordinarily great, despite the fact that they are several kilometers offshore. Indeed, many samples of open water have been found on the continental shelf, where light and food are most abundant.
Scientists have discovered 77 species, including saber-shaped bryozoans (moss creatures) like Melicerita obliqua and serpulid worms like Paralaeospira sicula, which is far more than previously known about this entire ecosystem. .
Dr. David Barnes, lead study author and marine scientist at British Antarctic Inquiry, says:
“The discovery of so much life living in these extreme conditions is a total surprise, and it reminds us of how unique and special Antarctic marine life is. It’s amazing that we have found evidence of so many types of animals. , the majority of which feed on microalgae (phytoplankton), but no plan. Yet no algae can live in this environment, so the big question is how do these animals survive and thrive here? “
(Photo: Rick Cavicchioli, UNSW Sydney)
Sea ice in Antarctica showing a brown layer of ice algae. These microbes thrive in the “houses” of the pack ice and are the start of many food webs, which branch out to nourish all larger life forms. Melting sea ice has a downstream effect on ice algae, which means a decrease in the food web and a greater risk of starving ocean life.
Researchers believe that enough algae has moved under the sea ice from the ocean to support a healthy food web. According to the microscopy of the samples, the annual development of four of the species was surprisingly close to that of similar organisms in the open marine environments of the Antarctic continental shelf.
Dr Gerhard Kuhn (AWI), who managed the drilling effort as a co-author, says:
“Another surprise was to learn how long life has existed here: the carbon dating of dead fragments of these seabed animals ranged from 5,800 years, which implies that although it is in 3- 9 kilometers of open water, an oasis of life may have existed continuously for nearly 6,000 years under the pack ice. Only samples of the seabed under the floating ice floe will tell us stories of its history. “
According to current beliefs about what life can experience under ice floes, all life becomes less abundant the further you move away from the open sea and the sun. Small scavengers and mobile predators, such as fish, worms, jellyfish and krill, have been found in these ecosystems in previous research. However, the filter species, which depend on food from above, should be the first to pass under the ice.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Time is running out to research and save these ecosystems, scientists say, due to climate change and the loss of these ice shelves.
The article “Richness, growth, and persistence of life under an Antarctic iceshelf” was published in Current biology by David KA Barnes, Gerhard Kuhn, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Raphael Gromig, Nikola Koglin, Boris K. Biskaborn, Bettina AV Frinault, Johann P. Klages and Julian Gutt.
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