Scientists discover an oasis of life under an ice shelf in Antarctica

Despite the harsh frost and complete darkness that envelopes the depths of Antarctica, life still strikes the most wonderful examples of its birth from the womb of suffering.

according to for research study New – published in Current Biology on December 20 – conducted by researchers from the UK and Germany, the Ekström Ice Shelf in Antarctica contains a thriving ecosystem since thousands of years.

Although ice shelves cover an area of ​​more than 1.6 million square kilometres, they are among the least diverse environments on Earth that we know of. Life in these harsh environments has been seen through cameras, and has rarely been collected for the purpose of examination and study.

Therefore, a team of researchers at the German “Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research” dug two sites in the Ekstrom ice shelf, with a depth of up to 200 meters, using hot water to investigate the nature of life there, according to what he reported. a report Science Alert website about the study.

The edge of the Ekstrom ice shelf, where thriving life forms were found (Wikipedia – Hannes Group)

prosperous life

According tofor press release Published by the British Antarctic Survey in response to the study, the lifestyles collected from there were completely unexpected.

Although the Extrum Ice Shelf is located only a few kilometers from the surface of the ocean that is not covered with snow, the biodiversity witnessed in this area was so rich that it exceeded the diversity of life on the continental shelves covered with water that provide sources of light and food.

The team discovered there are 77 different species of organisms that were not known in this environment before. These species included ‘bryozoans’ – a group of simple invertebrate animals approximately 0.5 mm long – spider-shaped, as well as ‘spiral worms’ (Serpulidae) such as Paralaeospira sicula.

About these results, David Barnes, a marine biologist at the British Antarctic Survey, says that “the discovery of thriving and diverse life living in these harsh conditions is a great surprise, and indicates the extent of diversity and excellence that Antarctica possesses.”

Fanworms were among the species discovered under the ice shelf (Pixabay)Fanworms were among the species discovered under the ice shelf (Pixabi)

Algae a potential food source

Of course, the existence of life in this harsh environment is so amazing that we wonder how these creatures can survive and thrive in this environment.

Current theories, which discuss the diversity of life under ice shelves, indicate that life becomes less abundant the further away from open water sources and sunlight. Some previous studies have reported the presence of some small animals as well as predators – such as fish, worms and jellyfish – in such habitats.

However, filter-feeding organisms (ie obtaining food supplies by filtering suspended contents in their environment) are among the first to disappear in this icy environment. The organisms discovered there are plankton that remain in one place while their feathery tentacles (arms) extend to pick up the organic matter particles in the water flowing around them.

Which means that some kind of food source is needed, like sunlight-dependent algae that must exist under that ice sheet. So the team concluded that there must be a strong food web below the ice shelf that contains enough algae.

The discovered plankton are organisms that extend their feathery tentacles to pick up particles of organic matter in the surrounding environment (Wikipedia - nhopgood)The discovered plankton are organisms that extend their feathery tentacles to pick up particles of organic matter in the surrounding environment (Wikipedia – Nhobgood)

Old life

“Another surprise is the length of time that life has existed in this area,” says Gerhard Kuhn, Antarctic excavation coordinator and co-author of the study. “The carbon dating of these animal remains shows that their ages range from modern to 5800. general”.

Cohen concludes, “This oasis of life has been under that ice shelf for nearly 6,000 years, even though it is only 3 to 9 kilometers from the open water. Thus, it is the seafloor samples of this ice shelf that have Just tell us the history of this area.”

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