Scientists have good news regarding Antarctica. A secret ecosystem has flourished under the icy surface and a recent discovery has been made. Researchers have found this “hidden world” beneath the Larsen Ice Shelf. The footage shows a space resembling a dark cave with swarms of tiny shrimp-like creatures. The Larsen Ice Shelf is a giant floating iceberg attached to the east coast of the Antarctic peninsula. Satellite images reveal that the unusual trench where this ecosystem was found is a subsurface river.
To uncover this hidden ecosystem, the team drilled nearly 500 meters below the surface of the ice. For this drilling job, they used a powerful hot water hose to access the underground cavity. When a camera was sent down this drilled tunnel, it captured footage of some small, fuzzy marks in the water. These swim marks don’t have any camera glitches. Instead, these are small crustaceans called arthropods, which the researchers didn’t expect as much below the surface.
Craig Stevens, a physical oceanographer at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland, New Zealand, speak“Having all these animals swimming around our camera means there’s clearly an important ecosystem process going on there.”
The researchers were also amazed at the interior space in which this ecosystem was found. They were expecting a flat and smooth roof. But the roof is very uneven and has a lot of folds. “It looks like a loaf of bread, with a bulging top and a narrow slope at the bottom,” added Stevens.
The researchers also stumbled across a unique feature of the water column. Groundwater divides into four or five separate layers that flow in opposite directions. “This changes our current understanding and models of these environments,” says Stevens. He added, “We’ll do our part to understand what this means.”
The scientists suggest that they will continue to study the newly formed subsurface ecosystem. They will also try to figure out how nutrients circulate through Antarctica’s groundwater network.