Scientists have good news about Antarctica. A secret ecosystem is flourishing beneath the icy surface and this discovery was made recently. Researchers have found this “hidden world” beneath the Larsen Ice Shelf. The footage reveals a dark cave-like space filled with swarms of tiny, shrimp-like creatures. The Larsen Ice Shelf is a vast sheet of floating ice that forms when attached to the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Satellite images show that the unusual drain where this ecosystem has been found is a subsurface river.
To find this hidden ecosystem, the research team drilled about 1,640 feet (500 meters) below the surface of the ice. For this drilling, he used a powerful hot water tube to reach the underground chamber. When a camera was sent down this drilled tunnel, it captured footage of many small, blurry fragments in the water. These swimming flecks were no camera glitch. Instead, these were tiny crustaceans known as amphipods, which the researchers didn’t expect so much beneath the surface.
Craig Stevens, a physical oceanographer at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland, New Zealand Told“All of those animals floating around on our camera means that there’s clearly an important ecosystem process going on.”
The researchers were also surprised by the interior location in which this ecosystem was found. He expected a smooth and flat roof. But the ceiling was very uneven and had a lot of ripples,” Stevens said.
Researchers have also unexpectedly stumbled upon a unique feature of the water column. Groundwater splits into four or five separate layers that flow in opposite directions. “It changes our current understanding and model of these environments,” Stevens said. “We’re going to finish our work to understand what that means,” he added.
The scientists suggest that they continue to study the new subsurface ecosystem. They will also try to figure out how nutrients circulate through Antarctica’s underground water network.