The discovery of a “hidden world” rich with marine life beneath the icy continent astonished researchers researching Antarctica.
Just 500 meters beneath the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica, an entirely new biosphere has been discovered.
The researchers uncovered a massive cathedral-like cavern filled with a variety of species, including amphipods, a type of invertebrate related to lobsters, crabs, and mites.
A team of New Zealand researchers from the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics (Niwa) and the Geological and Nuclear Sciences were sent in to see what role this estuary would play in the melting of ice shelves due to climate change.
Their camera was besieged by these tiny amphipods as they drilled down below the ice shelf and into the river below.
“For a while, we thought something was wrong with the camera,” Niwa’s Craig Stevens explained, “but when the focus improved, we noticed a swarm of arthropods around 5mm in size.”
“We’ve done experiments in other parts of the ice shelf and thought we had a handle on things, but this time big surprises were thrown up.”
In addition to the importance of investigating climate change, he said that there was also an element of discovery involved for the team.
“We were jumping up and down because having all those animals swimming around our equipment means that there’s clearly an important ecosystem there,” says the researchers.
Huw Horgan of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, the project’s main scientist, discovered the estuary after noticing a groove in the ice while reviewing satellite photos of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Scientists have known for a long time that there are freshwater lakes and rivers hidden beneath the frozen continent, but Mr. Horgan said that these bodies of water have not yet been directly surveyed.
“Getting to observe and sample this river was like being the first to enter a hidden world,” he remarked.
He said that the scientists had put things in the river so they could study how it moves.
After deploying its mooring only days before the cataclysmic eruption of the Tongan volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, their discoveries expanded.
The equipment observed a considerable pressure change produced by the tsunami that passed through the hollow after the eruption.
Mr. Stevens saw the planet’s interconnectedness after witnessing the eruption.
“Here we are, in a forgotten corner of the world, seeing real-time influences from events that felt worlds away,” he continued. It was quite remarkable.”
A 7.4 magnitude earthquake was generated by the underwater Tonga volcano, which erupted in January.
The tremor sent tsunami waves slamming into the Pacific island’s coast, covering it in ash and cutting it off from rescue.
Tsunami waves have hit California, prompting evacuation advisories in Australia, Japan, and the United States.
Image Credit: NIWA/ Craig Stevens