Antarctica is the southernmost of the continents and one of the largest, with a surface area of fourteen million square kilometers. Because it is on the South Pole, Antarctica is almost always covered with glaciers. But that does not prevent several animals from living there.
The waters below Antarctica are one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. Even so, this total darkness with sub-zero temperatures is the habitat of several species that may never have been seen before.
When scientists pierced an ice shelf in Antarctica, they found a rock at the bottom of the sea to several species. Some organisms have been seen in similar places. However, this discovery marks the first time that stationary creatures, who live their lives trapped in a place, have been found in that environment.
“This discovery is one of those lucky accidents that pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and incredibly adapted to a frozen world,” said the biogeographer, Huw Griffiths, of the British Antarctic Survey.
Antarctic ice shelves are like permanent floating rafts connected to the main landmass of the continent. And they can be huge. In all, they are over 1.5 million square kilometers. This is approximately one-third of the continental shelf in Antarctica.
Due to the environment’s hostility below them, it isn’t easy to reach the place, so the human being still explored little of it. For this exploration, scientists usually make holes in the ice and lower the equipment to be able to look at what is underneath.
Because of eight of these good researches, scientists know that there is life under the ice. Usually, it is in the form of small mobile creatures, such as fish, jellies, worms, and crustaceans. And the feed filters, like sponges, were totally unexpected to be found in this environment so far from where photosynthesis is possible.
However, under the Flichner ice shelf is where Griffiths and his team discovered these creatures. They found, attached to the rock, a stem sponge, another 15 sponges without a stem, and 22 organisms with unidentified stems.
“Our discovery raises many more questions than answers; for example, how did they get there? What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these stones covered with life? Are they the same species that we see outside the ice shelf, or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice on the shelf collapsed?” Asked Griffiths.
Most of life on our planet depends on the sun to survive. However, in the dark depths, where the light does not reach, living beings need another strategy.
The bacteria, which surround the ocean’s hot springs that release heat and volcanic chemicals, depend on chemosynthesis to produce sugars and form the basis of a food chain.
According to recent research findings, organisms that live under glaciers chemosynthesis hydrogen. This type of ecosystem, which depends on methane, has also been found in the ocean. A methane leak was found even in Antarctic waters.
Griffiths and his team investigated the rock between 625 and 1,500 kilometers from the region closest to photosynthesis. So it seems likely that the things that live in that place depend on some form of the chemosynthetic food chain, even though the sponges are of the carnivorous type.
And the only way to find out is to do a much more detailed study of the organisms and their environment. This is quite challenging.
“To answer our questions, we will have to find a way to get closer to these animals and their environment – and that is less than 900 meters of ice, 260 kilometers away from the ships where our laboratories are located. This means that, as polar scientists, we will have to find new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have,” concluded Griffiths.