The accidental discovery of marine organisms on a rock on the sea floor below 900 meters (3,000 feet) from the Antarctic Ice Shelf has led scientists to rethink the limits of life on Earth.
Researchers found life-bearing rocks after a well sank across roughly one kilometer of the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf on the southeastern Weddell Sea to obtain core sediment from the sea floor.
As the rock weakened their chances of getting pulp, footage from a video camera below the crater captured the first images of creatures stuck in a far rock under an ice shelf.
“It’s a little crazy,” said Dr Huw Griffiths, a marine geographer with the British Antarctic Survey. “We had never thought in a million years looking for that kind of life, because we didn’t think there would be.”
Ice shelves form when frozen water flows from the interior of the continent to the coast and floats on the surrounding sea. When the ice flows over the ground, it can capture rocks that have become embedded in the base of the ice shelf before it falls to the sea floor.
While surveys of marine life in Antarctica have found some small, moving organisms – such as fish, worms, jellyfish, and krill – far beneath ice shelves, they have never found fixed filter feeders, which survive by eating food that falls on them. Their absence led many scientists to suspect that complete darkness, lack of food, and a temperature of -2 ° C were very hostile to them.
Photos and video footage of the rock show that it is home to at least two types of sponges, one of which has a long leg that opens to the head. But other organisms, which could be tube worms or stalker plants, also appear to grow on rocks. Details of the find were published in Frontiers in Marine Sciences.
The isolated rock community is located 500 meters below the base of the ice shelf and 160 miles (260 km) from the nearest open water. Due to the strong currents in the area, the food they eat – possibly dead plankton – is believed to be transported between 370 and 930 miles before reaching them.
“This is the farthest so far under the ice shelf that we have seen of any of these filter feeding animals,” Griffiths said. “These things are stuck on a rock and do not feed until something flies off.
“It was a real shock to find them out there, really good shock, but we can’t do DNA tests, and we can’t figure out what they’re eating, or how old they are. We don’t even know if it’s a new species, but it definitely lives in a place where we wouldn’t expect it to live.” in it “.