Discovered hidden worlds of marine life in Antarctic river under ice

Discovered hidden worlds of marine life in Antarctic river under ice

New Zealand scientists “jump up and down” to find climate-induced melt of the ice shelf during their investigation

A cathedral-like cavern hundreds of meters high lies beneath an enormous Antarctic ice shelf. There are tiny shrimp-like creatures living in this newly discovered ecosystem. This ecosystem was previously ice-locked.

A team of scientists from New Zealand found the ecosystem 500m below the ice in a probable estuary, hundreds of kilometers away from the Ross Ice Shelf.

Antarctica New Zealand supported researchers at universities in Wellington, Auckland, and Otago, as well as the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics, Geological and Nuclear Sciences, to study the role of the estuary in the climate-induced melt.

They were greeted by amphipods as they made their way down into the river through the ice.

Craig Stevens, Niwa’s husband, said that while we initially thought the camera was malfunctioning, after adjusting the focus, we saw a large number of arthropods about 5mm in size.

“We have done experiments in other areas of the ice shelf and thought that we were familiar with things. But this time there were big surprises.

Stevens stated that there was a climate change motivation, but there was also a sense of discovery.

“We were jumping because all the animals that swim around our equipment meant there was an ecosystem.”

Huw Horgan, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington was the project’s leader. He spotted a groove in the Ross Ice Shelf’s ice during satellite imagery.

Horgan stated that although researchers have known for some time about hidden freshwater rivers and lakes below the Antarctic Ice Sheets, they have not been directly surveyed.

“Observing and sampling this river was like entering a secret world.

He said that instruments had been left in the river to monitor its behavior, while laboratory researchers would examine what makes the water unique.

Further, the team’s findings revealed that it had just deployed its docking station a few days before the massive eruption at the Tongan volcano Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai. The instruments of the team detected significant pressure changes as the tsunami entered the cavity.

Stevens was reminded of the effects of the eruption and how interconnected the planet is. “Here, we are in a forgotten corner, seeing real-time influence from events that felt far away. It was amazing.”