Scientists used a “hot water drill” to dig through a half-mile of Antarctic ice in the Ross Ice Shelf and discovered a “lost world” hidden beneath it.
When the team of experts drilled through the ice on Jan. 16th, they lowered cameras and found a hidden ecosystem of fish and other underwater life living underneath the sheet. “I have been investigating these types of environments for much of my career, and although I knew it would be difficult, I had been wanting to access this system for years because of its scientific importance,” Northern Illinois University researcher Ross Powell said. Powell is a chief scientist with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling [WISSARD] project.
“Findings such as these — gaining an understanding of the ice sheet dynamics and its interaction with ocean and sediment, as well as establishing the structure of its ecosystem — are especially rewarding,” he added. “It’s a big pay-off in delayed gratification.”
Powell and other scientists said that this was the furthest south that fish had ever been discovered. Louisiana State University microbiologist Brent Christner said it was “remarkable” that life was found so far from the sun.
“We have to ask what they’re eating,” Christner said. “Food is in short supply and any energy gained is hard-won. This is a tough place to live.” Other researchers were also astonished by how life could support itself so deep underwater.
“Finding fish, or any other type of life, under an ice shelf is by itself not novel,” WISSARD scientist John Priscu said.
“However, our WISSARD data will establish for the first time sources of carbon and energy for higher trophic levels in this most southerly marine ecosystem. Our data will also provide important information on the connectivity between subglacial environments and ice-shelf productivity, allowing us to predict first responders to a warming climate.”