Can animals live beneath the Antarctic ice?

Can animals live beneath the Antarctic ice? 

An article in the New Scientist magazine in December 2021 reports that a variety of marine (saltwater) animal species has been found below the Antarctic ice shelf, and that they can live there for thousands of years. They can live in the harsh freezing ice, with limited food, and in the darkness. These animals include corals, clams, sea mosses, snails, and worms.

In 2018, a German research team drilled holes (using hot water) in the ice shelf and collected samples from the seabed in two locations. The research team found 77 marine species. 

David Barnes at the British Antarctic Survey studied the samples under a microscope. He said that the variety of animal life was more than he had expected.

Using radiocarbon dating, he found that the sea mosses – the bryozoans – were several thousands of years old. They were immobile, which means that they survive the cold by not moving – they are conserving (saving) energy. 

More research is required because the researchers think that if the habitat is disturbed, such as with the ice melting and landscapes changing, some of the marine species in the ice might become extinct. 

Journal reference: Current BiologyDOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.015.

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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