A swarm of crab-like creatures have been discovered by researchers in an underwater river 1,600 feet beneath the ice in Antarctica. The creatures currently have not been named.
This surprise discovery came as a shock to New Zealand researchers, who were in Antarctica to study a river hundreds of kilometres from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Their original aim was to take samples and analyse how it has been affected by climate change.
The scientists drilled down into the river with a camera to analyse the damage climate change had done. But they unexpectedly discovered swarms of the small amphipods about 5mm in length, a creature in the same family as crabs, mites and lobsters.
Professor Craig Stevens, a NIWA Physical Oceanographer taking part in the expedition, said the team was ‘jumping up and down because having all those animals swimming around our equipment means that there's clearly an important ecosystem there.’
The researchers took water samples back to the lab to look at properties of the river to see what makes it habitable.
Scientists have been aware of freshwater rivers and lakes underneath the Antarctic ice for nearly 5 decades. But this is the first time one of those underwater rivers has had wildlife living within it.
Project lead Huw Horgan, an associate professor of geophysical glaciology at the Antarctic Research Centre at the Victoria University of Wellington, was the one to first spot the ecosystem during the trip.
He noticed it whilst studying the satellite imagery of the ice shelf, seeing a groove in the ice—an indicator that an estuary was somewhere underneath. Horgan said what they found was a ‘cathedral-like cavern.’ which was teeming with life. He said being the first to observe such a thing was like ‘being the first to enter a hidden world.’ The whole team were thrilled by the find, according to reports.
The same group of researchers recently completed an expedition to Hunga Tonga, an underwater volcano that recently erupted in early June. Here, they found ecosystems within 15km of the explosions.
As well as that, data showed that the water column was still recovering, and evidence shows the eruption was still happening due to newly settled ash in the water. This wouldn’t have been known if the team didn’t go down there.
Discoveries like the amphipods in Antarctica and the Hunga Tonga can help scientists learn more about other rivers and lakes, as they can analyse the water temperature, water flow, pressure and how the ocean interacts with the local environment and compare any similarities and differences.
Dr. Richard Levy, a university professor and a researcher from GNS Science said that discoveries like these amphipods show how much there is still to learn about Antarctica. New Zealand researchers will soon be conducting further studies to learn as much as they can and come up with a name for the new species.
Image Credit: Reddit
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