The month of February brought record breaking frigid temps, causing rolling blackouts and icy streets, which left most of the north American population feeling much like the recently discovered creatures that live 3,000 feet below the icy floor of Antarctica—in the dark, and cold.
A team of marine biologists and geologists drilled through 2,860 feet of solid ice, and then lowered a camera a further 1,549 feet of water. Their original intent was to collect samples of the sea floor, but the team ended up with a strange new discovery a half-mile under the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.
“We were expecting to retrieve a sediment core from under the ice shelf, so it came as a bit of a surprise when we hit the boulder and saw from the video footage that there were animals living on it,” Dr. James Smith, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey and co-authored the studies of their findings that were published in the journal “Frontiers in Marine Science.”
The creatures discovered are called filter feeders because they strain food particles from the water, and are attached to a boulder. The discovery, according to Marine Biologist Huw Griffiths says discovering these kinds of creatures at such a depth is unprecedented because it has never happened before. Another exceptional thing about this discovery, aside the depth, is the temperature. Griffiths says the water temperature was near freezing and the nearest source of photosynthetic life is more than 930 miles upstream.
“The area underneath these giant floating ice shelves is probably one of the least-known habitats on Earth,” said Griffiths in a Twitter video. “We really don’t know that much. And the total area that human beings have seen under the ice shelves adds up to about the size of a tennis court.”
Oftentimes, scientists have explored creatures that inhabit right under the ice sheets, such as worms, krill and jellyfish. Now that the scientists have discovered living creatures further down than they ever expected, they face a new challenge, such as how to reach them and study them close-up.
“Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there?” Dr. Griffiths discusses in a press release, “What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf, or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?”