Scientists Find Dozens Of New Species Hiding Under Antarctica Ice Shelves

Most of us could never even imagine living in the cold of Antarctica, but it seems as if there are some life forms that are happy to call it home.

Those life forms may not be something you would want to welcome over to dinner anytime soon, but the surprising discovery does have scientists talking.

The find was posted in the Current Biology Journal, and it involves a crew from the British Antarctic Survey. Those researchers recently revealed that 77 new species were found below the ice shelves of Antarctica. Those species were given unusual names, such as serpulid worms and sword-shaped bryozoans.

Photo: flickr/lin padgham

Many of these life forms, which are commonly known as moss animals, are no larger than a millimeter. They have a tough exoskeleton, as you could imagine, with some hairlike tentacles that are used to filter food.

For many years, people doubted that there would be anything living under the ice shelves of Antarctica. This really raises a lot of questions that need to be answered. For example, how can animals be alive under the ice deep enough so that no light can ever penetrate? What do they use to sustain themselves?

According to a statement by the lead study author, Dr. David Barnes: “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. It’s amazing that we found evidence of so many animal types, most feed on micro-algae (phytoplankton) yet no plants or algae can live in this environment.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

He then followed it up with a question: How can they survive, or more specifically, how can they flourish under those conditions?

One of the suggestions of how the life forms are able to survive is associated with the algae that were carried under the ice shelf from open water. It is an interesting suggestion, but there is still much research that needs to be done.

The environment so deep below the ice of Antarctica is not one that is well known. In order to find these life forms, they had to drill a hole 656 feet deep into the ice, which took place back in 2018.

Photo: imaggeo/ Célia Julia Sapart

The conditions at the Neumayer Station III in the South Eastern Weddell Sea are quite difficult, with temperatures that frequently dip well below freezing.

It didn’t stop life forms from being discovered under the ice shelf before but this new research is very eye-opening.

A co-author of the study, Dr. Gerhard Kugh, was responsible for organizing the drilling project. He said that it is surprising to find out that life has existed there for so long.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After doing some carbon dating of the newly discovered animals, they found that they had been in that area for some 5800 years.

Even though they are miles away from any open water, it seems as if they have been able to survive for millennia under the ice shelf.

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