Small animals lead to the discovery of a “secret ecosystem” in Antarctica

New Zealand scientists are quite pleased with the “almost unintentional” discovery of what they call a “secret ecosystem” they observed during climate studies in Antarctica.

According to channels such as CNET and the British newspaper The Guardian, the news came during a parallel study: a team of climatologists had studied the effects of global warming in the Antarctic melting zone in the Ross layer when they surprisingly noticed similar small creatures with shrimp inside a network of caves immersed in the ice.

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The footage shows amphipods – small shrimp-like crustaceans – moving around in a submerged camera in a small underwater river in Antarctica (Image: Stevens et al. 2022 / Handout)

A team of researchers from the universities of Wellington, Auckland and Otago as well as the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric (Niwa) and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences had studied the area by diving probes and cameras into the estuaries of the Antarctic Territory. . During one of these dives, however, one of the cameras aroused the curiosity of the small animals – called “amphipods”. From there to the so-called “secret ecosystem” the road was fast.

“At first we thought there was something wrong with the camera, but when the focus was adjusted, we saw a swarm of amphipods, each no larger than 5 millimeters. [mm] in size, ”said Craig Stevens of Niwa. “We have had similar experiences in other parts of the ice sheet and thought we had seen it all, but this time we had some big surprises in store. »

Project manager Huw Horgan (Wellington) was the first to see the estuary. According to him, it is already relatively old knowledge that there is a network of freshwater lakes hidden in the thickest layers of ice in Ross, the area where the research took place. However, this was the first time that a scientific team had the opportunity to make a direct observation.

“Taking samples from this river was like being the first to step into a lost world,” Horgan told the Guardian, noting that samples were being taken to study the secret ecosystem.

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The team of researchers studied the effects of global warming on the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet when they encountered the ‘secret ecosystem’: the news was met with delight by experts (Image: Stevens et al. 2022 / Disclosure)

The Ross layer is the largest in all of Antarctica and spans 480,000 square kilometers (km²). Researchers studied an underwater river hidden just under 500 meters (m) deep – “extremely dark, lightless and very cold”, according to Stevens.

Using equipment known as a “hot tube” (literally, a huge cable that heats up to the point it serves as both a source of light and heat), experts studied weather effects and sought to identify long-term changes in the hidden layer when one of the cameras was “attacked” by animal curiosity.

“The fact that all these animals are swimming around the camera clearly means that an important ecosystem is growing there, which we will do more research on and analyze water samples, test things as nutrients,” he added, noting that sometimes ” every horde ”followed the camera as it sank.

Although we have known about it for centuries, almost every experience in Antarctica reveals something new. It is particularly difficult to navigate its internal accesses, because in addition to the fact that the area does not facilitate the movement of people, it is necessary only to drill or melt the ice and then do without monitoring equipment – an initiative not only cumbersome but also very expensive. .

This is precisely why, according to historians, the remains of the legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance were first discovered in March 2022, 107 years after it sank.

Experts are currently conducting further research to analyze all the material collected and promise a full investigation as soon as possible.

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