Scientists have just discovered there is a garden full of life located beneath the ice of Antarctica. An underwater robot has revealed a thriving world under the Antarctic ice, filled with coconut-like sponges, dandelion-like worms, fouling pink algae, and starfish. It seems that after all, there’s more to Antarctica than we ever believed.
The images were recorded by a camera connected to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) deployed by scientists beneath the layers of ice at O’Brien Bay, near Casey’s research station in East Antarctica.
Australian Antarctic Division biologist Glenn Johnstone said the images were captured as scientists retrieved a SeapHox pH data logger, which records the acidity, oxygen, salinity, and temperature of seawater in An hourly basis since November last year.
When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the iconic species such as penguins, seals, and whales usually steal the show,” Dr. Johnstone said.
“This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colorful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.
“These communities live in water that is -1.5°C year round and are covered in 1.5-meter thick sea ice for 10 months of the year.
“Occasionally an iceberg may move around and wipe out an unlucky community, but mostly the sea ice provides protection from the storms that rage above, making it a relatively stable environment in which biodiversity can flourish.”
Researchers are just now beginning to realize the incredible biodiversity and complexity within the ecosystem located to the Antarctic costs, and possible threats that await in the future.
Project leader, Dr. Johnny Stark of the Australian Antarctic Division said that a quarter of the carbon dioxide which is emitted into Earth’s atmosphere eventually ends up in the ocean as it is absorbed by the sea, which in turn dramatically increases its acidity.
“Carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water. Polar waters are acidifying at twice the rate of tropical or temperate regions, so we expect these ecosystems to be among the first impacted from ocean acidification,” Dr. Stark said.
“Research shows the pink encrusting algae, known as crustose coralline algae, may decrease in extent in a more acidic future ocean, as it incorporates calcium into its structure, and this becomes harder for organisms to obtain as the acidity of the seawater increases.
“Antarctica may be one of the first places we see detrimental effects of ocean acidification on these organisms.”