Life finds a way
Erica Mannis outlines a surprising unearthing scientists have made in the Antarctic , leading them to rethink life on Earth
Defying all expectations, scientists have discovered sea life under the ice in the Antarctic.
Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey were looking to take a sediment core sample of the seabed when they discovered a boulder under the Filcher-Ronne ice shelf, coated in sponges. The researchers had drilled through the ice, found the boulder and sent a camera down to film the novel, barnacle-like organisms.
These sessile organisms are likely filter-feeders and were highly unexpected for the area they were found in. There is no obvious nutrient source as the plankton detritus they are likely to feed on is in open-water approximately 260 kilometres away, with currents potentially having to carry the food up to just under 1,500 kilometres in order for it to reach them. Scientists have traditionally predicted that sessile organisms like these become less apparent at greater distances from the ice edge; however, this discovery has pushed some scientists to rethink this proposition. The ice-cold temperatures alongside the lack of obvious food source means most scientists assumed no life could exist in such a harsh environment.
The organisms resemble sponges, barnacles and tube worms but there’s currently no way to identify the species. The very existence of these organisms suggests life on this planet is more varied and highly adaptable than thought. The organisms give us an insight into what life could have survived and adapted from after a ‘snowball Earth’ period.
The very existence of these organisms suggests life on this planet is more varied and highly adaptable than thought.
There are hopes to intensify this study, but many issues may prove limiting: the remote location, underwater complications, and harsh climate all affect the researchers’ ability to carry out further study. The species are currently being observed using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and cameras. Due to the conditions, DNA analysis is not possible, so absolute species identification is one of many unknowns including how old these species are and what they eat.
However, this discovery is under direct threat with climate change. The ice sheets are melting, threatening the organisms only known environment. The future this community is uncertain as it may not survive the warming climate.
Despite the many unanswered questions, this is a landmark discovery that shows how our planet is far more diverse and unpredictable than previously thought.