Remarkable trove of species found living beneath Antarctic ice shelf

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The assortment of taxon recovered beneath an Antarctic crystal support shows that beingness tin past successful hostile, food-poor environments for thousands of years

Environment 20 December 2021

By Adam Vaughan

Hot h2o  drilling

Hot h2o drilling successful Antarctica

Sophie Berger/AWI

An astonishing assortment of marine beingness has been discovered connected the seabed successful the acheronian hundreds of metres beneath Antarctica’s crystal shelves, including corals, clams, oversea mosses, snails and worms. 

In 2018, a German probe squad drilled holes successful the Ekström crystal support utilizing blistery h2o and collected samples from 2 sites connected the seabed beneath. An investigation of the samples suggests the situation is location to 77 taxon – a greater fig than recovered during each erstwhile studies beneath Antarctica’s crystal enactment together. 

“It’s a tantalising presumption of 1 of our least-known habitats,” says David Barnes astatine the British Antarctic Survey, who studied the organisms nether the microscope. “These 2 samples are precise rich. The happening that truly leaps retired is conscionable however affluent the bryozoans – the oversea moss animals – are.”

Radiocarbon dating shows immoderate of the bryozoans are respective 1000 years old. Most of the taxon recovered are immobile, truthful their find successful specified a hostile and low-food situation suggests they are surviving connected phytoplankton carried by poorly understood currents beneath the crystal shelves. 

They look to beryllium increasing conscionable arsenic accelerated arsenic the aforesaid taxon recovered increasing connected open-water continental shelves, to Barnes’s surprise. He says it shows however agelong beingness tin persist with precise small nutrient and by conserving energy.

The probe follows another study earlier this twelvemonth that recovered a astonishing array of sponges connected a boulder heavy beneath Antarctica’s ice.  The assortment of beingness recovered this clip suggests that environments beneath the crystal are much habitable than antecedently thought, says Barnes. “Perhaps beingness is susceptible of surviving overmuch much crystal screen than we thought was the case,” helium says.

However, Barnes and his colleagues enactment that this undisturbed and biodiverse situation beneath the crystal “could beryllium the archetypal situation to spell extinct” arsenic Antarctica’s crystal shelves illness owed to clime change.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.015.

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