Scientists have discovered life underneath the Antarctic ice shelf, where it was previously thought no living things could survive. The discovery was made by scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who accidentally stumbled upon the stationary animals while collecting sediment samples. The sponges-like animals, including several potentially unknown species, were found under complete darkness and with temperatures of -2.2 degrees Celcius about 260 km away from the open ocean.
"Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there? What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?" Dr. Huw Griffiths of BAS said in a press release.
Accidental discovery of extreme life! Far underneath the ice shelves of the #Antarctic, there’s more life than expected: https://t.co/atdkiv1GrA— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
BAS marine biologist Dr Huw Griffiths @griffiths_huw explains... pic.twitter.com/Z6OUw4oQNs
Discovery of life after drilling through 900m of Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in #Antarctica.— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
Published today @FrontMarineSci - https://t.co/atdkiv1GrA @griffiths_huw @shelfyice @hotwateronice @wavygk @GeoscienceAus @morroghmax @post_alix @nuigalway @UCR_EP_Sci @NERCscience pic.twitter.com/L8P9tt2DbZ
‘Breaking All the Rules: The First Recorded Hard Substrate Sessile Benthic Community Far Beneath an Antarctic Ice Shelf’ - Huw J. Griffiths, Paul Anker, Katrin Linse, Jamie Maxwell, Alexandra L. Post, Craig Stevens, Slawek Tulaczyk & James A. Smith: https://t.co/qoWpSa4ME0 pic.twitter.com/ZXpMkN1iO8— British Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 15, 2021
Floating ice shelves of Southern ocean represent the greatest unexplored habitat as only the area of the size of a tennis court has been studied so far, of the 1.5 million square kilometres of the Antarctic continental shelf. This is the first-ever record of a hard substrate (boulder) community deep beneath an ice shelf and it appears to go against all previous theories of what types of life could survive there.
Life under Antarctic ice shelves came as a surprise when scientists discovered strange creatures wrapped around a boulder because living organisms become scarce further away from the open ocean due to no sunlight. The discovery of sponges, which is the filter-feeding organism and only survive in open waters, was even more surprising when found underneath the Antarctic ice shelf because they depend on food from above, which they then randomly strain from the water.