Team of Researchers Finds Life in the Antarctic that “Shouldn’t Be There”

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A team of UK-based researchers in the Antarctic made a stunning discovery in early 2021. The team, who were drilling through the ice on the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, had dug through 3,000 feet of ice, expecting to hit the ocean floor. To their surprise, they hit stone.

“We were expecting to retrieve a sediment core from under the ice shelf, so it came as a bit of a surprise when we hit the boulder and saw from the video footage that there were animals living on it,” commented geologist Dr. James Smith. The team was able to record the life forms with a small portable camera that was lowered into the hole. A video documenting the discovery went viral online after the team uploaded their findings.

Life Below the Ice

The team was astonished by the discovery, in no small part due to the extreme conditions in the ice. While the life they found was described as being “sponges,” they may represent undiscovered life-forms never before encountered by humans. The extreme cold and lightless nature of their environment makes their ability to live in those conditions astonishing.

The biggest question posed by the existence of these creatures is how they’re getting food. Photosynthesis should be impossible in their environment, the team postulated, given the lightless nature of the ice-and-rock environment they were found in. The discovery poses new questions about the nature of marine life in the Antarctic and could shed some light on the ecosystem of the region.

Researchers Astonished by Discovery

Dr. Huw Griffiths, the lead author of the study the team put together, described the discovery as an astonishing stroke of luck. “This discovery is one of those fortunate accidents that pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and amazingly adapted to a frozen world,” the researcher noted.

The discovery, while fascinating, has also opened a number of questions about what, exactly, the researchers have found. “What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?” Griffiths said of the discovery.

While we often think of ourselves as the masters of our environment, we’re always learning more about the natural world. This discovery is yet another piece of the grand puzzle of life on Earth.