Mysterious Creatures Found Under Half a Mile of Antarctic Ice

Recently, Geologist of the British Antarctic Survey, James Smith went on a trip to the Antarctic’s Flincher-Ronne Ice Shelf which is a five-hour flight from the nearest Antarctic station. His aim was to study the history of the floating shelf and for that, he needed seafloor sediment that was locked under half a mile of ice. Interestingly, he and his team found mysterious creatures that weren’t supposed to be there.

Mysterious Creatures Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice

Process of Collection of Seafloor Sediment from the Floating Antarctic Ice Shelf

So Smith and his team went on an expedition to collect seafloor sediment, which was locked under half a mile of ice in a very remote area of Antarctica. And to do this process, Smith and his colleagues had to melt 20 tons of ice that will essentially create 20,000 liters of hot water.

They pumped the hot water through a pipe lowered down a borehole. It took them about 20 hours to melt through the ice and finally piercing through the shelf.

After this, they dropped an instrument to collect sediment, they also attached a GoPro Camera to shoot. The first time, the collector came empty, after another try, it still came empty. To give you context, this isn’t just normal sample collection as each trip of the instrument took about an hour so to try this again and again was a bit time-consuming.

Mysterious Creatures Found Under Half a Mile of Antarctic Ice

Probability of Some Mysterious Creature?

After trying to collect the samples with the instrument, when Smith went to his tent later that night, he just watched the footage to see something weird.

Footage shows a descent through 3,000 feet of blue-green ice and that suddenly stops opening up into dark seawater. Then camera goes another 1,600 feet until the seafloor finally comes into view. It was mostly light-colored sediment which smith was looking for but there was also something dark.

Initially, the dark turned out to be some kind of rock as the camera bumped into that with a thud. The camera quickly adjusted itself and scanned the rock. The camera revealed(most probably) some mysterious creature that geologists weren’t looking for.

Mysterious Creatures Found Under Half a Mile of Antarctic Ice

“It’s like, bloody hell!” Smith says. “It’s just one big boulder in the middle of a relatively flat seafloor. It’s not as if the seafloor is littered with these things.”

More Development on The Mysterious Creature

Smith isn’t a biologist so he didn’t know much about the mysterious creature that he saw on the footage. But his colleague Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey saw the footage in the UK.

Huw noticed some kind of film coating on the rock which is most likely a layer of bacteria called microbial mat. A weird-looking sponge and other stalked animals were hung with the rock. The rock was also lined with wispy filament which might be a component of the bacterial mat or perhaps a peculiar animal known as hydroid.

Mysterious Creatures Found Under Half a Mile of Antarctic Ice
At bottom left, you can see stalked animals. Top right are sponges.

The things that are wrong with this rock that Smith found are, it is 160 miles away from daylight just where the ice ends and the open ocean begins, it is hundreds of miles away from the nearest food source, and it is also far away from known ocean currents to supply foods to these mysterious creatures.

So in a realistic sense, there is no sense for that rock to be there. As Griffiths, lead author of a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science put it, “It’s not the most exciting-looking rock if you don’t know where it is.”

 Why Is It Strange?

You must be wondering that there a lot of creatures that live deep under the sea in complete darkness like these mysterious creatures, right? So what’s so weird about this?

So we know that animals that live sessile(stuck in a place) rely on a fair supply of food in the form of “marine snow”. This food supply is reliable and steady, as Marine Snow is the remains of the creatures that swim above and die.

As the corpses descend and decompose, other creatures pick them and fling off particles. This supply chain works in most of Antarctica but the Antarctic critters on this particular rock don’t live in a running water column. We’re talking about a half-mile of solid ice deep and they can’t just go places to collect food.

“The worst thing in a place where there’s not much food, and it’s very sporadic, is to be something that’s glued to the spot,” says Griffiths.

So How Do They Get Food?

We have discussed all the things that do not make sense but researchers think that the whole marine snow element is actually in favor of this rock. The possible reason, food source is moving horizontally instead of vertically to this rock that sustains the life of these mysterious creatures.

Researchers have also seen the charts of ocean currents and came to the conclusion that there are productive regions between 390 and 930 miles away. Very far distances but still a possibility that enough organic material is riding these currents to provide food to these mysterious creatures.

The probability is very odd, to give you context, the marine snow produced at the Challenger Deep near Guam which is the deepest part of the ocean has to fall seven miles to reach the seafloor. And in this Antarctic mysterious creatures case, it would have to travel 133 times that distance and that too by floating sideways.

Further Reading on The Mysterious Creatures of the Antarctic Ice

As there are no specimens collected so there isn’t much known about the origins of these. Researchers think that there are several possibilities. Some think that the creatures moved from boulder to boulder while others think that their parents also lived in the same ecosystem.

There isn’t much know about their feeding habits too. What they eat, do they feed on the same food source, or do they take nourishment from each other.

The researchers also don’t know if this particular rock is an aberration or if there are other rocks like this throughout the region. If this is common, then we have about 560,000 square miles of ice shelves where such creatures could exist. As of now, scientists have just searched for a small area in the Antarctic Ice but it will be interesting to see more expeditions about such things as there is no time and we might lose this beautiful ecosystem. “There is a potential that some of these big ice shelves in the future could collapse,” says Griffiths, “and we could lose a unique ecosystem.”   

Article Reference VIA 

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