Feb. 15 – A group of unusual sponge-like sea creatures living on a boulder under some 1,650 feet of Antarctic ice has been discovered by scientists. A team of geologists drilling through the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, which extends through part of the Weddell Sea, discovered the unidentified lifeforms, detailed on Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. In an email, biogeographer Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey told UPI, “The boulder came from the land and probably dropped off the bottom of the ice shelf floating above,”
Griffiths, lead author of the paper explaining the find, said that after it dropped onto the seafloor, the animals possibly colonized the boulder. Where scientists have found sea creatures, there is no sun. More than a quarter of a mile of ice floats immediately above the boulders. The animals are stationary, but it would take them to travel more than 160 miles to enter the open ocean if they could swim.
Under the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, where temperatures in the unfrozen seawater can exceed 28 degrees Fahrenheit, the geologists who discovered the sponge-like species weren’t searching for or expecting to find living things. They needed only a bit of sediment. Griffiths said, “They wanted the mud to be able to look at the history of the ice shelf,” “On this occasion, they hit a boulder instead of mud. This was not good news for the geologists, but it was an amazing find for biologists.
“The geologists sent a video to a team of marine biologists, including Griffiths, who are experts in the study of harsh polar ecosystems. Many other findings, including many new organisms, have been made by the team involved, but we typically do the work from a ship,” Griffiths said. “This discovery was a total accident because when we found them, we were not really searching for this life.Scientists are not sure how these species came to colonize the boulder or how precisely they live under the ice shelf in the cold, lightless conditions—they said they do not even know what the organisms are.
“We have only had a quick glimpse on the video and that doesn’t have enough detail to be able to identify them to species,”We only had a quick glimpse on the video and it does not have enough detail to be able to recognize them as species. “We think that there are at least two types of sponges and some other animals that we cannot identify. Given that we usually find new species when working in Antarctica, there is a good chance that they could be new to science.”
It’s likely that the creatures under the ice shelf are specially suited to life. It is also probable that the creatures, still at their larval stage, were unwittingly swept by ocean currents under the ice shelf. There are several concerns about the finding. Researchers expect to find more boulders like the one featured in the newly published study in order to address them.Griffith said, “These findings show that polar ecosystems are even more diverse than we expected and that some animals can survive far further from daylight than we previously believed,” “The next task is to understand how common these boulders and communities are and what role they play in the broader Antarctic ecosystem.”