Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany have uncovered 77 seafloor-dwelling species beneath an Antarctica ice shelf, according to a British Antarctic Survey press release.
The discovery was published earlier this month in an issue of Current Biology, and has led many scientists to believe that Antarctica’s harsh climate may be home to much more marine life than previously thought to exist there.
“This discovery of so much life living in these extreme conditions is a complete surprise and reminds us how Antarctic marine life is so unique and special,” said the study’s lead author David Barnes. “It’s amazing that we found evidence of so many animal types.”
Occupying almost 1.6 million square kilometers, the ice shelves of Antarctica are among the most obscure environments on earth. Scientists had only documented a total of a few dozen species until their recent discovery of 77 life forms in one spot — more than they had previously identified across the entire continent.
The team drilled two holes through over 650 feet of the Ekström Ice Shelf in the south eastern Weddell Sea, where they found invertebrates such as bryozoans and serpulid worms thought to feed off small bits of organic matter and micro-algae. Researchers used carbon-dating methods to determine that the animal remains they had uncovered were up to 5,800 years old.
“So, despite living 3-9 kilometers from the nearest open water, an oasis of life may have existed continuously for nearly 6,000 years under the ice shelf,” co-author Dr. Gerhard Kuhn said. “Only samples from the seafloor beneath the floating ice shelf will tell us stories from its past history.”