Antarctic survey finds diversity of life under the ice

The icy cold waters of the Southern Ocean are not a place you would expect to find a variety of aquatic species living and thriving, but that is exactly what a team of scientists discovered recently while conducting an underwater survey of the Antarctic. The expedition, which was a joint effort by Oxford University, the University of South Hampton, and the British Antarctic Survey, sent a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) under the ice for the first time, where it made some astounding discoveries.

Researchers piloted the ROV under Antarctica’s East Scotia Ridge to plumb the depths of the Southern Ocean, where they found a large number of hydrothermal vents. Those vents are actually cracks in the surface of the Earth through which heated water is released into the sea. In some instances, the temperature of that water can exceed 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it possible for a number of unique animal species to survive in a part of the world that is usually inhospitable to most creatures.

Among the discoveries were a new species of yeti crabs that congregate in large numbers along the vents. In some extreme cases, there were as many as 600 of the crabs within a single square meter of space. Patrolling the periphery of these vast colonies was a never-before-seen species of starfish, with seven points no less, that preyed upon the crabs. An as yet unidentified pale octopus was also spotted along the ocean floor, as were a variety of new barnacle and sea anemone species as well.

These latest discoveries underscore just how much we still have to learn about the Earth’s oceans, where it seems life continually finds a way to prosper, despite some very challenging conditions. Reading about these creatures makes me wonder what else is still out there, waiting for us to discover it.

[Photo credit: British Antarctic Survey]