British oceanographers have discovered totally unexpected life forms while drilling into an ice barrier in Antarctica. This apparently inhospitable environment is indeed the habitat of several living species, more than half of which have not yet been identified. Scientists want to continue their research in order to answer their many questions.
The lair of dozens of living species
First of all, remember that few living species have been observed before in the depths of Antarctica. Research is indeed scarce in this type of extreme environment. However, in a study published in the journal Frontiers of marine science on February 15, 2021, a team from the British Antarctic Survey shared their findings. Oceanographers have drilled in the Filchner-Ronne ice barrier to a depth of 900 meters. This barrier is located in the heart of the Southern Ocean, where the water is largely frozen permanently. The researchers say they discovered that this rather hostile place was actually the lair of dozens of living species.
“This discovery is one of those happy accidents that push ideas in another direction and show us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and incredibly suited to a frozen world.“Huw Griffiths, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
More questions than answers
Observing life in this type of region is nothing new. Indeed, species of crustaceans, jellyfish and other worms cross them. On the other hand, it is the first time that we observe life forms (such as sponges) which live there permanently. Let us recall in passing that beyond very low temperatures, photosynthesis is impossible there due to an absence of light. This discovery therefore surprised British researchers.
Oceanographers have listed 16 species of sponges and 22 as yet unidentified organisms. After this discovery of stationary life at the bottom of an Antarctic ice barrier, scientists have indicated that they want to continue research. Their objective will be to study this biodiversity in order to find answers to their many questions: “How did these organizations get here? What are they eating ? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered with life? Are these the same species we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed? ”.
Here is an explanatory video published by the British Antarctic Survey: