Strange Creatures Accidentally Discovered Beneath Antarctica’s Ice Shelves, ‘Never in a million years’ Would They Have Expected It, Says Lead Scientist

Strange Creatures Accidentally Discovered Beneath Antarctica's Ice Shelves
Strange Creatures Accidentally Discovered Beneath Antarctica's Ice Shelves
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Scientists accidentally discovered a previously unidentified life form under 3,000 feet of ice in Antarctica. They found two types of animals, where it was earlier believed that no life form can survive. Their next step is finding a way to get close enough to identify the creatures.

During an exploratory survey, researchers drilled through 900 meters of ice in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, situated on the south eastern Weddell Sea. At a distance of 260km away from the open ocean, under complete darkness and with temperatures of -2.2°C, very few animals have ever been observed in these conditions.

Scientists previously thought Antarctica’s frigid temperatures and lack of sunlight and food source for energy made it impossible for living creatures to thrive in such environment.

The creatures were found attached to a boulder in the arctic seas under the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf. Experts from the British Antarctic Survey had drilled through 2,860 feet of ice before they stumbled upon this remarkable discovery.

The seafloor beneath floating ice shelves accounts for roughly a third of the Antarctic’s 5 million km2 of the continental shelf

“The area underneath these ice shelves is probably one of the least-known habitats on Earth,” said Huw Griffiths, one of the scientists who made the discovery, in a Twitter video.

“We didn’t think that these kinds of animals, like sponges, would be found there.”

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The scientists said their next step was to understand whether the animals were from a previously unknown species.

“To answer our questions we will have to find a way of getting up close with these animals and their environment,” Griffiths said. The area beneath giant floating ice shelves is one of the least known habitats on Earth.

To get a glance at what is happening below a huge mass of ice, boreholes are drilled through it and cameras lowered down.

The total area that humans have seen below the ice shelves adds up to about the size of a tennis court, according to Griffiths, who has worked with the British Antarctic Survey for more than 20 years.

Finding the sponges in this remote location, Griffiths said, was what made this discovery particularly perplexing.

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The Filchner-Ronne ice shelf is a huge floating ice sheet that stretches out from Antarctica. It spans more than 579,000 square miles, but very little has been explored beneath the ice.

Enormous icebergs occasionally break off of ice shelves and drift away. In December, one of these icebergs threatened to crash into a breeding ground for sea lions and penguins.

Scientists say they were not searching for life

The Filchner-Ronne ice shelf
The Filchner-Ronne ice shelf

They were drilling through the ice sheet to collect samples from the seafloor. Instead, their camera suddenly hit a boulder. When they examined the camera’s footage, it unveiled the new discovery.

“Never in a million years would we have thought about looking for this kind of life, because we didn’t think it would be there,” Griffiths told The Guardian.

The video reveals two types of unidentified stationary animals, shown here in a video from the British Antarctic Survey. The animals in red seem to have long stalks, whereas another type of animal, highlighted in white, looks more like a round sponge-like animal.

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These animals were found about 160 miles from the open sea.”Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there?” Griffith said in a press release. “What are they eating? How long have they been there?”

The scientists said their next step was to understand whether the animals were from a previously unknown species.

“To answer our questions we will have to find a way of getting up close with these animals and their environment,” Griffiths said.

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