Scientists Find Visible Life Under a Half Mile of Ice in the Antarctic

Robert Zwilling

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Scientists Accidentally Discover Strange Creatures Under a Half Mile of Ice

On a rock, apparently in the middle of nowhere, life is teeming

Under 3,000 feet of ice, hundreds of miles from regular food sources, scientists found a lone rock covered with life that you didn't need a microscope to see.

Besides a layer of bacteria known as a microbial mat on the rocks surface, strange looking sponges and other stalked animals could be seen dangling from the rock, while stouter, cylindrical sponges hugged the surface. The rock also had wispy filaments, either bacterial mats or an animal known as a hydroid.

Its not known how old the colony is, or how the creatures got there. The food sources for creatures living in the deep ocean waters get a lot of food from what rains down starting from the surface and anything that dies in the waters above them. For the creatures living on the rock, it looks like the food could be coming from currents that run horizontally under the ice, perhaps for hundreds of miles.
 

Robert Zwilling

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Because of the technological problems in searching for life under thousands of feet of ice, it is very hard to find the life. The depth of the water under the ice is very shallow. Sometimes only as deep as a swimming pool, on up to 15 meters. The immense pressure from the ice keeps the water liquid. Hot water is used to drill down through the ice. The lure for searching for life under all that ice is the possibility that there is a good deal of similarity between Antarctica and conditions on ice covered moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

One theory is that the life on Antarctica millions of years ago created an organic layer which slowly seeps up from underneath the water underneath the ice which the microbes process and convert into food for other life forms.

Originally just microbes were found because they couldn't bring up solid materials. That situation changed 2 years ago when scientists were able to run remote control vehicles and use cameras to search for life. They didn't life every time, and so far it is micro life that is found on land, but in the shallow slivers of water that are found under the ice shelf where it goes into the ocean, sea creatures have been found, feeding on something. The microbes in these subglacial lakes produce carbon based food sources which ultimately gets carried along under the ice to come out under the ice shelves in the ocean.

There are around 400 lakes discovered so far, many of them connected by under water networks. Massive melting and refreezing of the surface ice happened 10,000 years ago and 120,000 years ago. Somehow this probably introduced organic material into water under the ice. Very small animals, less than a poppy seed in size also got washed under the ice. Some of the bodies are still in good condition and look like they only just died. The eight-legged tardigrade resembles species known to inhabit damp soils. What looked like worms were actually the tendrils of a land-dwelling plant or fungus. They could have been living in or around open land with running streams that appeared when the glaciers retreated.
 

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