A group of German researchers recently investigated a newly uncovered seafloor. It was exposed as a result of carving the mega-iceberg A74. The seafloor was found to be brimming with animals as video cameras captured abundant filter-feeders growing through the soft muds.
A still narrow gap is present between the A74 and the Brunt Ice Shelf produced the giant iceberg. RV Polarstern, the team’s ship operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute, was fortunate enough to thread through this narrow gap. This was a remarkable opportunity because although scientists often attempt to examine waters underneath freshly-carved ice, success is hardly achieved. The purpose of investigating such areas is to better understand how these unique eco-systems function.
To successfully reach the target site, it’s important to have proper timing. This is because most of the time, it’s difficult to reach the required place due to the sea-ice conditions in Antarctica. RV Polarstern, however, was already on the eastern Weddel sea on a different undertaking when the A74 split from the Brunt. When the weather became favorable, the ship grabbed the chance to closely investigate the seafloor which was devoid of ice for the first time in five decades.
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The expedition lasted for roughly five hours. Within this time, nearly 1000 high-resolution images and lengthy videos were collected. A highly sophisticated instrument called the Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System (OFOBS) is utilized by the Polarstern to collect these media.
Dr. Autun Purser, an OFOBS team-member, shared the discoveries made from the expedition with BBC’s Science In Action program. He stated that every piece of the hard substrate on the seafloor was mostly colonized by slow-growing sponges and bryozoans – filter-feeding animals. Also, many mobile animals such as sea cucumbers, fish, and octopuses were also living down there. He also explained that not much evidence of creatures living in the sediment has been found. Lastly, he revealed that burrow structures were rarely seen under the ice.
Listen To Dr. Autun Purser Describing The Animals Found Under The Ice
Dr. Huw Griffiths from the British Antarctic Survey was delighted with the pictures from the Polarstern. He stated that although the discoveries made aren’t unexpected, it’s a great indication that a rich food supply exists even at a depth of 30km under the ice.
Take A Look At The Animals Discovered Below
He further explained that planktons produce this food on the nearby sunlit surface of the sea. After that, currents of the Weddell Sea drag them under the ice. The iceberg is moved westward around the Weddel sea, and then northwards, by the same currents. AWI is conducting long-term studies in the region.
The eastern region of the Weddell sea is much more interesting than the west. This is because the warming effects seen in the western region are absent in the east. Although this situation is temporary, computer models suggest that systematic invasions of warm water from the north might be visible before the end of the century.