“Life finds a way,” declared actor Jeff Goldblum the role of scientist Ian Malcolm in the 1993 movie “Jurassic Park”.
Animal life wasn’t what scientists expected to find in the extremely black sea water beneath nearly half a mile of floating Antarctic ice, but it appears to have found a way to discover marine organisms that inhabit the harsh environment.
Geologists who sampled sediments from the sea floor beneath the giant Felchner Rohn Ice Shelf on the southern edge of the Widdell Sea in Antarctica have discovered what biologists believe are sponges. The discovery was Published Monday At Frontiers in Marine Sciences.
The geologists were more than 150 miles from the open ocean when they dug a hole through the 3,000-foot-thick ice with a hot water drill and lowered a drilling rig and video camera into the dark seawater below.
They were expecting the sea floor to be mud, but they were horrified when they hit a rock, which meant they couldn’t get the intended sediment samples. To their surprise, however, the camera showed colonies of “fixed” animals attached to the rock – possibly sponges and related marine creatures.
“It was a bit disappointing for them – they spent weeks getting there and it just didn’t work,” said marine biologist Hu Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey, who is the lead author of the published study. “But for [biologists]It’s amazing, because no one has seen her before [organisms] Before.”
Antarctica is surrounded by more than half a million square miles of ice shelves – Filchner-Ronne is one of the largest ice shelves, covering more than 160,000 square miles – but the wells revealed an area of sea floor below the size of just a tennis court. “It’s a huge area, but we have a little widow in it,” Griffiths said.
Small moving animals such as shrimp and crustaceans called sea fleas have been seen before under ice shelves, but no one expected stationary animals like this one. He said, “The only things you would expect to find … are the things that can walk around and find food.” “Whereas if you are stuck on a rock and waiting for food to reach you, the only thing that comes after this year may bypass you.”
The dot-like spurs seen on the right of the video are clearly a type of sponge, while the creatures hunted on the left are similar to some of the other sponges found near the South Pole. There are also indications that other animals may be anchored to the rock, such as tube worms, stalking barnacles, or hydrocortis, which are associated with jellyfish.
In order to survive, organisms will have to feed on floating material from other animals or plants, since it is impossible for plants to photosynthesize in non-sunny sea water. While the rock is about 150 miles from the ocean, the direction of the currents under the ice shelf indicates that the earliest vegetation age is 1,000 miles, Griffith said.
But the question of how these animals got food should wait until another scientific mission can visit the place, perhaps equipped with a remote underwater vehicle that can retrieve samples from the animals.
“All components of life are under the ice shelves,” said John Brisco, professor of polar ecology at Montana State University, who has studied life under polar ice for nearly 40 years but was not involved in the recent study.
Animals attached to the rock appear to have drifted there in microscopic larvae, then grown into their adult forms: “Life is everywhere, and the environment chooses the species that eventually flourish.”
Briscoe said in an email that the future stage will be determining whether animals resemble those in the open ocean, or whether they have evolved to live where they are now. “[If] Living things have evolved to thrive under ice shelves, and it may provide us with a molecular clock that can be used to measure past climate changes in the Antarctic ice.
The discovery shows that life can exist in environments Science suggests it shouldn’t: “There are still things we must learn,” Griffiths said. “There are still animals out there who could break the rules we wrote for them.”