Deep beneath the Antarctic, there is much more life than expected, scientists have shown in research almost a kilometer under the ice. Moreover, life there has a completely unexpected form, which contradicts all assumptions and theories.
Antarctica is considered an inhospitable continent that offers limited living conditions only on its outskirts. But when scientists drilled 900 meters deep below the Filchner-Ronne glacier shelf, they were surprised. At a distance of 260 kilometers from the open ocean, in complete darkness and at a temperature of -2.2 ° C, they found life here. They described it in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
This study is the first to confirm the existence of a community of immobile fungal-like organisms living on a boulder on the seabed. Scientists have not been able to determine if they are unknown organisms, but they believe so.
Biogeographer and lead author Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey said,this discovery is one of those lucky coincidences that shifts research in a completely different direction and shows us that life in the Antarctic seas is incredibly special and wonderfully adapted to this eternally frozen world.
Our discovery raises far more questions than answers, such as how did they get there? What do they live on there? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered with living organisms? Are they the same species we see outside the ice shelf, or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the shelf collapsed? are the researchers question.
Floating ice shelves are the largest unexplored ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. They cover more than 1.5 million square kilometers of the Antarctic continental shelf, but scientists have so far drilled into them only eight times, examining only an area about one tennis court.
Current theories about what kind of life could survive under hundreds of meters of ice suggest that organisms that depend on food supplies from above should not live here. It is assumed that residue and waste eaters could survive in this environment. But the organisms observed on the boulder look exactly as they shouldn't, they're probably creatures that somehow obtain resources from above. How, that's not clear at all.
The discovery of the ecosystem on the rocks deep under the ice shelf was a huge surprise for scientists. They calculated that this community can be up to 1500 kilometers upstream from the nearest source of photosynthesis. Researchers will not learn more about these organisms until they have the tools to collect their samples - a huge challenge in itself.
Griffiths said, to get answers to our questions, we need to find a way to get closer to these organisms and their ecosystem that is, to penetrate under 900 meters of ice, 260 kilometers away from the ships where we have our laboratories.