Life Finds a Way Beneath Antarctic Ice Shelf

  • Researchers discovered over 20 species of sea sponges and barnacles 400 miles from sunlight.

Our desire for exploration far outpaces our capacity. Our struggle to travel to our neighboring planets doesn’t bode well for exploring distant solar systems.

Photo by henrique setim on Unsplash

But when you consider how little of our own world we’ve seen, we’re still in the infancy of understanding the capacity for survival in species.

Take, for instance, the pitch-black, freezing, high-pressure seafloor beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. Inhospitable, no? And until recently, scientists hypothesized that there’d be few life forms down there, as there are less light and resources.

“Exploration” is just dropping a camera to the bottom of the sea.

A team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey just made a groundbreaking discovery. It highlights the fact we don’t understand life on our planet as well as we may have thought.

Using a hole bored into the ice shelf, researchers sent a camera into the depths beneath Antarctica, almost 400 miles away from the nearest sunlight, and discovered life.

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

The bottom of the ocean is less barren than you might think.

There were a few dozen unidentified species along with recognizable barnacles and sea sponges. The researchers think that the life forms may use chemosynthesis.

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

Not photosynthesis like the vegetation we know and love up here on the surface. Plants and trees turn sunlight into energy, fueling their growth and reproduction (along with water and nutrients from soil).

On the bottom of the ocean, life forms use gases seeping from the earth’s crust like methane and hydrogen sulfide instead of sunlight.

It’s likely that some species spotted are also carnivorous, feeding on tiny plants and animals in the seawater.

It’s basically like discovering alien life.

Besides being a remarkable discovery for our understanding of the planet, it’s also encouraging the possibility of life on other planets and moons within our solar system.

Researchers often point to Europa, the ocean-moon of Jupiter, as having the potential to harbor life beneath the planet’s ice-crust surface.

Humans are fragile creatures.

We have a way to go before we fully understand the extent of life on the polar seafloor. Sending people to the deep-ocean is just as tricky as sending people into outer space. 

Photo by Jay Ruzesky on Unsplash

here are the same obstacles; intense pressure, extreme temperatures, no oxygen, etc. Even a small discovery like this one has significant ramifications.  We have to change our understanding of what life needs to exist.  The possibility for life on alien worlds just expanded.


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