While we know there are a lot of different things locked in ice in places like Antarctica, but this was not something anyone expected to find. As of late, it seems some form of life was found that was somehow managing to get by in freezing conditions.
According to NBC News, the life found appears to be some kind of sponges. They are living in seemingly ‘pitch-black seawater’ that is under ‘half a mile of ice.’ Life on this level was not something any of the researchers involved thought they would find. Sure, bacteria and things of that sort were assumed to be present but sponges living in such conditions is quite interesting.
NBC News wrote as follows on this topic:
Geologists taking sediment cores from the seafloor beneath the giant Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf on the southern edge of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea discovered what biologists believe are types of sponge. The finding was published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science.
The geologists were more than 150 miles from the open ocean when they bored a hole through the 3,000-foot-thick ice with a hot-water drill and lowered a coring device and a video camera into the dark seawater below it.
They had expected the seafloor to be mud, but were dismayed when they hit a boulder, which meant they couldn’t get the intended sediment samples. But to their surprise, the camera showed colonies of “stationary” animals attached to the rock – probably sponges and related sea creatures.
“It was a bit of a disappointment to them – they’d spent weeks getting there and it didn’t work,” said marine biologist Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey, who is the lead author of the published study. “But for [biologists], it is amazing because no one has ever seen these [organisms] before.”
While to some this might not sound like much, in regard to understanding life in such conditions this is an enormous find. We’ve as noted above never seen these organisms before and now we can work to dive further into them. Who knows what we will learn the more we research them?
The abstract of the findings that were published under the title “Breaking All the Rules: The First Recorded Hard Substrate Sessil Benthic Community Far Beneath an Antarctic Ice Shelf” goes as follows:
The seafloor beneath floating ice shelves accounts roughly a third of the Antarctic’s 5 million km2 of continental shelf. Prior to this study, our knowledge of these habitats and the life they support was restricted to what has been observed from eight boreholes drilled for geological and glaciological studies. The established theory of sub-ice shelf biogeography is that both functional and taxonomic diversities decrease along a nutrient gradient with distance from the ice shelf front, resulting in a depauperate fauna, dominated by mobile scavengers and predators toward the grounding line. Mobile macro-benthic life and mega-benthic life have been observed as far as 700 km under an ice shelf. New observations from two boreholes in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf challenge the idea that sessile organisms reduce in prevalence the further under the ice you go. The discovery of an established community consisting of only sessile, probably filter feeding, organisms (sponges and other taxa) on a boulder 260 km from the ice front raises significant questions, especially when the local currents suggest that this community is somewhere between 625 km and 1500 km in the direction of water flow from the nearest region of photosynthesis. 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.
What do you think about all of this? I, for one, find it to be quite intriguing. This could really lead to so much more when it comes to understanding life in such places.